What You Need To Know For The YMCA Camp Sloper Polar Plunge In Southington Saturday

Velcro is your friend.

That's rule No. 1 of Polar Plunge advice for the 100 people leaping into icy Sloper Pond on Saturday at 1 p.m. to raise money for the YMCA Camp Sloper Scholarship.

Skip clothes with zippers and buttons, because chilled fingers can't easily use them to remove cold wet clothes, veteran jumper Mark Pooler said, speaking from personal experience. Pooler has jumped every year since the event began in 2005.

Other tips include: Keep your feet warm before plunging into frigid water. Hope for near-freezing air temperatures. Yell when you hit the water. Don't wear baggy costumes, which trap icy water (just ask the folks who have jumped in wearing giant banana or Gumby costumes).

And, most of all, don't dread it.

"It's more mental than physical," said Pooler, the YMCA director of operations. "Have fun."

Last year, the event raised about $40,000 that all went toward scholarships to help send local kids to YMCA Camp Sloper, said John Myers, executive director of the Southington-Cheshire Community YMCA.

People can still sign up to jump at the event. But it's a fundraiser so every jumper must have a minimum of $100 in donations to be eligible to leap off the dock into the ice water. No one under age 18 is allowed to jump.

The event in the YMCA camp on East Street attracts about 500 spectators who dress warmly to watch the plungers.

Michelle Passamano will be one of watchers. Each year, she sends out the email to other school district employees, asking people to join the district's Polar Plunge team. And each year, she makes a donation and stays warm and dry onshore.

"Will I ever go in? Not a chance. I can barely get into the ocean in summer," she said. A friend who was a first-time plunger last year said she would never do it again. Too cold.

"You see jumpers show up with coolers that have hot towels to use after they jump," Passamano said. "Not for me. I'll be warm and toasty on shore."

Shane Altwies, 28, the camp's director, is jumping again this year. He's the guy who says yelling helps.

This year, he plans to stay in the cold pond for 75 seconds with Pooler, a way to earn extra pledges for ignoring the natural urge to run out quickly and thaw by the warming fires in barrels on the beach.

"We keep moving. Do laps," he said Wednesday. "Yelling works."

It takes him about 10 minutes by the fire to warm up. The traditional bowl of chili given to jumpers once they leave the water helped him last year, he said.

"Don't think I can have any this year. I'm a new vegetarian," Altwies said.

Wendy Fisher, Sloper's outdoor center administrator, jumped last year for the first time, and she plans to do it again.

"It was not as bad as I feared. I got cold. I warmed in in a few hours," she said. "It's for a worthy cause."

She says keeping feet warm is crucial.

"Wear shoes and socks," she said. "That metal dock is really cold."

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