Richard Gustard and Ryan Gray had a strategy in the moments before getting wet at this year’s Caroline County Polar Bear Plunge on Saturday morning.

While those around them were still wrapped up in coats and sweatpants before the icy plunge into the 39-degree water of Lake Land’or, the fundraisers dressed as “Surfer Dude” and “Shark Boy” were already down to T-shirts, shorts and open-air footwear.

For effect, Gustard’s light T–shirt was ripped along blood-stained lines as he carried a surfboard, while Gray was wearing a shark head with a strapped-on fin extending from his back.

“It’s all about getting acclimated,” said Gustard mid-shiver as the pair took top honors among adult participants in the costume competition preceding the plunge.

And then a little after noon, with Van Halen’s “Jump” blasting out across the water, the two young men raising money for Bowling Green Baptist Church’s mission trips hit the drink with 50 or so others taking the Polar Plunge.

And when they came out: “Wasn’t as bad as I had expected,” said Gustard, while Gray said his biggest problem was running right out of his Crocs heading back to land.

Organizers of the annual event, now run by The Ladysmith Ruritan Club, were excited with the turnout, number of organizations taking part and money raised.

Jeff Black, a Caroline County supervisor and head wrangler of the event, said it was exciting to have 14 organizations using the event to raise money this year.

Those organizations each had “plungers” taking a dip into the chilly waters of Lake Land’or, each having already gotten donations from sponsors supporting their participation.

Just before the plunge, Black was excited to announce a new high in fundraising for the event, with $23,685 taken in to benefit the 14 groups that ranged from the food pantry at St. Mary of the Annunciation Catholic Church to “A Tail To Be Told,” an animal rescue organization.

For more than an hour Saturday morning, the “plungers” hung out in the area just at the top of the hill from the beach, where Black said organizers had launched a boat earlier that morning to break the ice with rakes.

One group of plungers from Caroline Middle School—teacher Cassidy Uscilowski, Assistant Principal Corrine Griggs and Principal Karen Foster, raising money for the youth-focused Caroline’s Promise—used the time to adjust their outfits.

Those duds included shirts, tights and handmade tutus in the school’s blue and gold colors, as well as wings made of white fabric to signify being frozen.

“Our school mascot is the eagle, but today for this chilly event, we’re the frozen eagles,” said Foster.

Like most of those getting ready for the plunge, the group of educators said they were all a bit apprehensive about how the shock of cold would feel.

One group with more insight into a body’s reaction to that kind of cold water was a trio of plungers from the Ladysmith Volunteer Rescue Squad, which had a unit at the event in case of any emergencies.

Squad member Kevin Rickens, whose wife and fellow squad member Amber also hit the water, noted what they’d expect.

“When your body hits water that cold, it’s a true shock, and causes blood vessels to immediately constrict,” said Rickens, noting that there’s often also an involuntary reaction to take a big breath, “which can be a problem if you’re under water.”

Fellow squad member Vincent Allen, who said he’s 65 but feels like 28, said the three would be in the water if anyone needed help, and that the trio’s plunge “exit plan” was beating a quick retreat to the back of the heated ambulance.

Another interesting pair of plungers: Clay Forehand, chairman of the Caroline County Board of Supervisors, dressed as Rocky in silky shorts and shirt, and fellow board member Jeff Sili as his trainer.

Sili said he was happy to watch his charge “Rocky” take the plunge from a safe and warm spot on the beach.

From emcee Bobby Hebert, who raised spirits with constant banter and a Ragnar the Ice Warrior costume, to the presentation of spray-painted toilet plungers to honor top fundraisers, the event had a joyful spirit despite air temperatures just in the high 30s.

Groups raising money for their specific charitable causes at the event included the Ladysmith Ruritan Club, A Tail To Be Told, Bowling Green Baptist Church, Caroline’s Promise, Caroline Recovery Center, Caroline YMCA, County Line Baptist Church, Habitat for Humanity of Caroline County, the Humane Society of Caroline County, the Ladysmith Volunteer Fire Company, the Ladysmith Volunteer Rescue Squad, the food bank at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Rehoboth United Methodist Church and Wright’s Chapel United Methodist Church.

Rob Hedelt: 540/374-5415

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