Why would you polar plunge?

Polar plunge 2013
Susie Quarstad and her friends participated in White Bear Lake's Special Olympics Polar Plunge in January 2013. Quarstad has jumped every year for the past eight years.
Courtesy of Susie Quarstad

The first time Susie Quarstad jumped into an icy lake, she remembers losing her eyesight for up to a minute.

But the experience left her feeling exhilarated, and she's been back at White Bear Lake's Special Olympics Polar Plunge every year for the past eight years.

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Since that first jump, Quarstad has recruited dozens of friends to join her in the cause. This year her team — Susie Q and her Crazy Crew — hopes to raise $20,000 for the organization.

Quarstad said that first jump happened after she and a friend had seen an advertisement for the Polar Plunge in a bar restroom.

"I just thought, what a crazy way to raise funds for a cool cause," she said. "It wasn't a run or a walk. It was just something different."

Video: 2013 Polar Plunge

Quarstad then became more interested in the organization, which helps people with intellectual disabilities compete in athletics.

But taking the plunge into 4-foot-deep water through a hole in the ice is never easy, she said.

"It's definitely difficult and definitely scary," she said. "Every year about 10 days coming up to it I get nervous."

Quarstad describes the experience as hitting a "reset" button. "Everything just stops for 30 seconds. Everything is literally frozen," she said.

"The hardest part is getting out of the water," she said. "You have to take about five steps to get out, and it feels like 100."

The other challenging part is shedding the wet clothes when you're freezing, she said.

Despite the cold, the Polar Plunge has grown in popularity. The Special Olympics held its first plunge in Minnesota in 1998. This year 17 plunges are being held throughout the state starting Jan. 25, when Quarstad and her costumed teammates will again jump into White Bear Lake.

"Last year one of my co-captains and I were bumblebees. This year we're going to be unicorns. Some of the guys were lumberjacks," she said. "The idea is to be a little crazy."