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  • LEZLIE STERLING / lsterling@sacbee.com

    Cecilia Colchico, left, and Holly Lynch, both 10 and members of the Clunie Marlins swim team, come in from the cold Saturday.

  • LEZLIE STERLING / lsterling@sacbee.com

    Debbie McDermott seeks reassurance from an event mascot before jumping in.

  • LEZLIE STERLING / lsterling@sacbee.com

    Rob Collier of Sacramento leaps to his moment of truth in the 48-degree water of Clunie Pool at Saturday’s Polar Bear Plunge at Sacramento’s McKinley Park.

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Polar Bear Plunge helps out aquatics programs

Published: Sunday, Jan. 8, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3B
Last Modified: Monday, Feb. 13, 2012 - 11:49 pm

What was billed as a Polar Bear Plunge took place in Sacramento Saturday morning with temperatures approaching 60 degrees.

That's polar only by standards of global climate change.

Nevertheless, the water at the Clunie pool in McKinley Park was a brisk 48 degrees – more than 30 below normal for swimming – when Councilman Steve Cohn counted down from 10 and about two dozen hardy souls jumped in.

Most divers were back out before you could count to 10 again.

"I feel like my skin fell off my bones! That was so epic," Katie Cooper told a couple of her friends.

Over the course of two hours, 73 people paid $5 to jump in as a benefit for Sacramento aquatics programs.

About twice that many got to watch, and stay warm, for free.

Aquatics has been suffering along with other parts of the city's budget, said Terri Matal, aquatics supervisor.

"A lot of city parks have been gradually closing," she said.

In 2006, the city operated 21 pool facilities, including five small wading pools.

This year, the city expects to be down to just three swimming pools and the wading pools.

"It's really sad we have to do things like this to fund important public institutions," said Joshua Lurie-Terrell, who arrived at the plunge with a panda (not polar bear) hat, perhaps more appropriate for the weather.

He brings his toddler daughter to the pool in summer, he said.

He came to help the pools stay open, although he said he felt some trepidation when he saw snow piled at the entrance to the pool.

He was worried that was to ice the water down, but it was just polar decoration, courtesy of the Zamboni at the downtown ice rink.

Like Lurie-Terrell, most plungers interviewed were at the event to help the program survive.

Not 8-year-old Grace Henriquez of Sacramento.

"I like swimming in cold water," she said, and proved it by jumping in more than once.

With only a few hundred dollars raised this year, Parks and Recreation organizers were hoping the event itself would be a splash of cold water in the face of public consciousness.

"We were looking to get people's awareness up," said Stephanie Collier, an aquatic specialist.

In the coming summer heat, the only open city pools will be at Clunie, Sam Pannell Community Center and Northgate Park.

To keep a pool open, without any special programs, costs $100,000 to $150,000, Matal said.

The free alternatives are beaches on area rivers, but drownings are a yearly occurrence there.

Anyone who wishes to contribute can do so through Gifts to Share at www.giftstoshare.org.

Click on "Donate Now" and select "City Swimming Pools" or other specific targets.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Carlos Alcalá



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