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Hundreds of volunteers brave icy river for cause
Hundreds take the plunge to support wounded warriors

 Polar Plunge participants exit the chilly Rappahannock River. More than 400 took part in Saturday's event.
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Date published: 2/10/2013


These "polar bears" were eager beavers.

Registration for Saturday's Sixth Annual Polar Bear Plunge at Fredericksburg's City Dock was set for 9 a.m. But participants began showing up at 7:30 a.m. on a frigid February morning. With temperatures in the mid-30s, more than 400 plunge participants--a record--signed up and jumped into a frigid Rappahannock River.

The event was a benefit hosted by the Wounded EOD Warriors Foundation, which aids veterans injured in explosive ordnance disposal work. Dealing with improvised explosive devices of the kind that have been used against American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq is part of EOD work, the foundation's Lynnette Swanson said. So, she said, is disposing of shells, bombs and mines.

Some Wounded EOD Warriors have lost limbs as they work to protecting their comrades. Among the first to take the plunge were amputees with prosthetic legs.

Adam Popp, a member of the Wounded EOD Warrior Foundation, participated in Saturday's Polar Plunge.

In 2007, he underwent an above the right knee amputation after he was working to dispose of an IED in Afghanistan and a second device exploded nearby. He was one of the first Wounded EOD Warriors the organization helped.

Popp, an Arlington resident, said: "I know first hand what this means to people. I really enjoy my work with the foundation. I'm passionate about it."

Participants made their way out to a Fredericksburg Fire Department boat, turned and splashed their way back to the dock.

Lynnette's husband, Tim Swanson, a retired Marine Corps master sergeant from Leesburg, called taking the plunge: "a great experience. It's the least we can do to raise money for them and their families."

Participants collected donations to sponsor their plunges. Officials said they will know how much was raised by Monday.

Coming off the dock, Tim Swanson said, "That water rushes up on you and the adrenaline takes over and you look for the boat. Is it cold? Yes, but it's all for a great cause. And it's almost like a reunion."

Lynnette Swanson said: "The EOD community is a very small, tight-knit community." A number of wounded veterans attended the event. Many of the rest, she said, were family and friends.

U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman, who represents the Fredericksburg area in Congress, was among those on hand to show support.

Lynette Swanson said the non-profit foundation sends a $3,000 check to the family when notified about an EOD wounding. If they have greater needs, veterans and their families may apply for more aid by going to the foundation website, woundedeodwarrior.org.

About 50 wounded EOD veterans were assisted by the foundation last year, she said.

The organization, based in Bluemont, was founded in 2006.

Thirteen participants from the U.S. Naval Academy took part in the plunge. They dressed as super heroes as part of a Polar Bear Plunge costume contest.

"It was pretty cold," said Midshipman First Class Michaela Viotta.

"[But]It was really great to see this many people turn out and show their support."

Michael Zitz 540/846-5163
Email: mikez@freelancestar.com