Taking the plunge to help send at-risk kids to camp

Posted: January 21, 2013

The Winchester Star

Donna Shipp emerges from the cold water of the Shenandoah River Saturday afternoon as part of the Polar Plunge, a fundraiser for Hi-Five Sports Camp. Shipp is the coordinator for the icy event. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)
Shaun Coo (from left) of Florida, Alex Chambers of Kentucky and Zach Bartosiewicz of Berryville stand by a fire Saturday after jumping into the Shenandoah River east of Berryville.
Maggie May of Berryville holds up the $400 she collected from pledges for the Polar Plunge Saturday afternoon on the Shenandoah River east of Berryville. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)

Berryville -- The looks on the faces of the people as they hit the Shenandoah River Saturday afternoon were priceless.

Before the 16 women and 10 men made the Polar Plunge, they were warned that the water was 36 degrees. That didn’t stop the looks of shock from spreading across most of their faces, much to the amusement of about 60 spectators watching from the river bank.

“It was like a bunch of needles attacking you at once,” said David Shaner, 47, of Strasburg. “It wasn’t as bad the second time.”

Shaner was one of three men who jumped in twice, in his case because he wanted to give his sponsors their money’s worth. He raised $188 for the event Saturday, which benefited the Hi-Five Sports Camp.

The summer camp, which is held at Powhatan School in Boyce, is a one-week program in which at-risk youth participate in activities such as basketball, hiking and wall climbing, said Donna Shipp of Winchester, who coordinated the Polar Plunge.

Shipp got the idea to jump in the river in January simply for the experience. She told friends, who asked to join, and someone suggested doing it for a charity.

“It has taken on a life of its own, way beyond what I imagined it would be,” said Shipp, who added she got a lot of support from co-workers at Robert E. Aylor Middle School, where she works with special education students.

The atmosphere was upbeat and encouraging at the lot Shipp’s family leases by the river on River Road. A little after noon, participants began jumping off a small floating platform into the frigid river and wading back out into the open air, which hovered in the mid-40s.

Nearby, a boat with men from Blue Ridge Fire and Rescue waited in case anyone needed help. The squad used the event as a river rescue training exercise, said Tracee Wink, president of Horsehoe Curve Benevolent Association, the plunge’s official sponsor.

The willingness of people to help put the event together, especially in such a short time, shows how much the community cares, said Wink of Clarke County.

“The minute you mention kids who need help, they come out,” she said.

About $1,750 was turned in Saturday with more pledged in the coming weeks, Wink said. Based on what she has heard, it “might hit $3,000.”

Bonnie Martin, 29, of Winchester donated $50 to the effort and was the first one in the water. She admitted to being a little nervous beforehand since she “absolutely hates the cold.”

“The cold didn’t phase me as much until I got out,” she said. “It was probably the coldest I have ever been.”

The water felt colder than expected for Charley Affleck, 53, of Clear Brook, but he said fighting the current was the hardest part. Still, warming up next to a fire after the plunge, he said he would do it again next year if the event continues.

“I have never done anything like that before, but it is for a good cause,” he said.

For more information on Hi-Five Sports Camp, go tohifivecamps.com.


— Contact Laura McFarland at lmcfarland@winchesterstar.com