Winters are pretty cold here in the Great Northeast and making a conscious decision to jump into a freezing cold lake on January 1st takes more than courage. It takes a reason so strong and so compelling that people who normally act quite sane are happy to take part in this annual event.
So on any given New Year’s Day you will find many Rotarians from District 7190 getting ready to jump into Lake George in upstate New York. It’s a hardy band of high-spirited people called Polio Bears who annually take the plunge to raise money for polio eradication.
Initiated by the Wilton Rotary Club many years ago, Rotarians from the District’s 42 clubs joined the fun in 2007. Usually led by the current District Governor the group gets together early in the day for a hearty breakfast and then begins the routine of prepping for the plunge. Much laughter erupts when someone shows up wearing a funny hat or other crazy gear.
The bright red End Polio Now tee shirts are easy to spot from shore when the bell rings and everyone rushes into the lake. You can hear how cold the water feels by the screams and shouts. The water is usually about 43 degrees but it’s the wind chill that really determines how frosty you get. Then it’s back to the shore for foot warmers, fleece wraps, hot cocoa, coffee or drink of choice, cheers and lots and lots of pictures.
District Governors who opt to stay on dry land find countless ways to raise money to stay out of the water. And Rotarians who want the Governor to ‘go jump in the lake’ find countless ways to convince them to take the plunge. This year, Rotarians raised over $10,000 to see the Governor get wet.
A great new event was added this year to give other Rotarians and their families a way to contribute to polio eradication and have a great time on New Year’s Day without getting wet. Planned and put together by the End Polio Now committee, eleven bowling alleys around the nine county district held the Pinning Down Polio Tournament with spectacular results. More than 250 people took part in this fun day with almost $25,000 in total raised with donations still rolling in.
With the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation matching every dollar raised for polio eradication with $2 this annual event raised over $75,000!!
Thanks to Dennis Austin and Ed Brown for the great photos