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A dip in the drink that was easy to bear

Warm Gulf invites New Year’s Day plungers for good cause

January 5, 2016
By John Morton - Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

It wasn't so much a polar plunge as it was a Calgon moment.

About 100 New Year's Day revelers eased their way into 77-degree Gulf water Friday during the Fort Myers Beach Polar Bear Club's 11th annual dip at the Outrigger Beach Resort.

"I'm from Rhode Island so I know about hypothermia you can only last in water like this for seven or eight hours, tops," said a laughing Terry Corndell, who was making his second plunge and dressed in a grass-skirt-shell-bra combo that resembled an episode of Gilligan's Island gone horribly wrong.

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The Polar Bear Club makes its approach to the Gulf.

Not only was the water temperature the highest in the jump's history, so was the 85-degree air temperature.

"I did this two years ago when the water was in the low 60s," said local resident Shawn May, home from college in Gainesville for winter break, as he prepared for his plunge by getting in a captain's costume. "But it was the air temperature and breeze that made it tough. But I needed it - it was a Polar Bear pick me up after a long night."

Darrell and Diane Walery of Chicago actually wished the water was colder, considering they were working up a sweat decked out head-to-toe in full Star Wars attire as a storm trooper and Princess Leia, respectively. It was the Chicago couple's first plunge, something they said they've thoroughly avoided doing back home.

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Will they admit their first plunge came in a balmy, bathwater-like Gulf of Mexico?

"No, probably not," Darrell Walery said.

Stacey Jones, visiting from Ontario, refused to take part out of principle.

"Where we come from, this is not a polar bear plunge," she said. "There, they have to first cut through the ice with a chainsaw."

Before the Fort Myers Beach plungers went for it, Willy "Ice Hole" Frey did indeed take a customary handsaw to the ocean waves, just in case.

"OK, it's ready!" he shouted as he tumbled into the water.

For the second year, the event benefited a cancer-related cause. This year, the Apryle Showers Foundation was the focus, in memory of Schmidt's daughter-in-law, Apryle Schmidt, who succumbed to cancer in August.

"This means so much, to see this kind of turnout," said Schmidt over the live music as volunteers ran a T-shirt sale, silent auction and 50/50 raffle for a packed courtyard crowd. "So many people have come up to me and thanked me for doing this."

Fellow original club member Ed Herbert shared in Schmidt's pride.

"For years we just did this to be festive, so it's good to see something more come of it," Hebert said.

Last year, Outrigger bartender Jimmy Bosley was the beneficiary, his cause drawing a record 200-plus plungers.

"It's just awesome to see so many familiar faces here today," said Bosley, who worked behind the crowded bar, his cancer now in remission.

On Friday, he celebrated his health by auctioning off his T-shirt from last year's event.

"That's just great to see," said Herbert.



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