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For Polar Ice Plunge, 35 degrees feels torrid

By Phil Luciano From Journal Star

Ron Johnson/Journal Star

EAST PEORIA — Compared with a year earlier, weather was relatively balmy Tuesday for the East Peoria Boat Club’s Polar Ice Plunge 2019.

On New Year’s Day 2018, the thermometer dipped to minus 16, and the club had to break away ice to allow access to its marina for jumpers. For Tuesday’s 1 p.m. plunge, the mercury was expected to hit 35 degrees, and the shimmering marina looked almost as inviting as a Caribbean seaside. Almost.

“It’s 50 degrees higher!” crowed event co-chair Todd Peterson, beaming as participants trickled into the clubhouse for the 17th annual event.

Though registration officially began at 10 a.m., enthusiastic plungers and spectators already had arrived to grab positions and libations at the clubhouse bar.

“You gotta start sometime,” Peterson said matter-of-factly.

Last year’s cold weather reduced the number of jumpers to about 50, way down from the record of 466. On Tuesday, the club hoped for somewhere between 100 and 200, a concession to the non-weekend holiday.

“People have to go to work tomorrow,” said co-chair Kelli Peterson.

She, like others on hand, took the opportunity to dress imaginatively for the event, as two of its most coveted awards involve best costumes by an individual and by a group. Kelli Peterson’s outfit looked sort of like an old-time cheerleading uniform entangled with silver Christmas-tree garland.

“I call myself ‘The Snow Angel’ or ‘The Polar Queen,’” she said with a grin. “I got this on clearance yesterday. It cost 10 bucks.”

Alyssa Hobson and four pals spent nothing on their get-ups, which were homemade. The Mackinaw woman has become a fixture at the event, where she and various friends have won the group-costume award seven out of the past eight years, including turns as Barbie dolls and flashers. On Tuesday, she and four friends arrived as “The Wild Riders,” jockeys of cardboard incarnations of a lion, unicorn, horse, swan and elephant.

“We come every year, for charity,” Hobson said.

Via $20 entry fees, the event has raised more than $164,000 for area groups over the past 17 years. This year, the club tabbed 11 not-for-profit organizations to benefit from the plunge.

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