The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


February 8, 2009

In an icy Susquehanna River, a little dip'll do

This year 200 sign up to brave nearly-freezing water

LEWISBURG -- Riley Shaw was so pumped for his first-ever venture into the icy waters of the Susquehanna River he decided to get a little practice in Saturday morning in his backyard.

"It was really cold and sharp," said Riley, 10, of Lewisburg, who sat in the snow in just his swimming trunks. "I wanted to know what it would feel like. It was definitely uncomfortable."

Riley joined more than 175 people -- a mix of all ages -- who ran into the river during the annual Polar Bear Plunge, as part of the Heart of Lewisburg Ice Festival.

Other plungers who braved the 30-degree waters included a Selinsgrove elementary teacher fulfilling a New Year's resolution, a 54-year-old Lewisburg woman keeping a birthday promise and a group of Bucknell University sorority sisters enjoying some fun together.

In the end, the record number of participants raised more than $1,000 for the Lewisburg Downtown Partnership by registering for the Polar Bear Plunge.

"My New Year's resolution was to do something outrageous," said Bob Waltman, 51, of Selinsgrove. "Now, I have something to tell my second-graders."

Patti Schmieder, 54, of Lewisburg, celebrated her 50th birthday 4 years ago by participating in another polar bear plunge. She was in Lewisburg Saturday to continue her tradition.

"I knew when I turned 50 that I wasn't going to jump out of plane, so I figured this would do," Schmieder said. "It's worked out well, because I've had fun each time."

Time and temperature

Preparation for the plunge began Friday as the Union County Emergency Squad, which specializes in water and land rescue missions, started cutting the 9-inch thick layer of ice covering the West Branch of the Susquehanna River in Lewisburg. A 50-foot-by-80-foot area was created, according to Tom Hess, chief of the emergency squad.

Captain Dale Schrader, who estimated the water temperature was around 30 to 31 degrees, said a person could survive being in the river for about 30 to 45 minutes before hypothermia set in.

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