'Penguins' face freezing water to benefit EMS

— Soda Davison figured the best way to paddle across a freezing swimming pool would be to use flippers.

That was a good strategy -- until he hit a mini iceberg and was forced to abandon the life-size cardboard milk carton he was half-wearing and half-racing across the Catamount Ranch & Club swimming pool.

Davison and about 80 other brave souls took the Penguin Plunge on Saturday to raise $45,000 for Routt County Emergency Medical Services.

Davison was part of Dave's Dippers, the first of 11 groups that braved the 34-degree water of the Catamount Ranch & Club swimming pool.

The other "dippers" were wearing life size cardboard Oreos.

"It was really cold. I thought the fins would help me out, but I hit an iceberg. Ice does not go with milk," Davison said about his attempt to race across the frigid pool.

"He cheated. He was floating inside of a milk carton while the rest of jumped right in," fellow dipper J.J. Ross said.

"He was trying to skim across the pool, which didn't work," Ross said, laughing.

The third annual Penguin Plunge was sponsored by the Healthcare Foundation for the Yampa Valley. The plunge began as a creative way for the foundation to raise money to purchase medical equipment and communications equipment for EMS. This year, the funds are going toward the purchase of 800 MHz radios, which cost about $5,000 each.

Bonnie Bunker, a spokeswoman for the foundation, said she was impressed with Saturday's plunge, not only because the event raised $5,000 more than she expected, but also because of the creative "penguin" costumes.

"Everything was just what we expected. There were lots of good costumes -- that's my favorite part," she said.

Besides the Oreos and milk cartons, there were groups dressed as 800MHz radios, characters from "Gilligan's Island" and even penguins.

The 15 members of the March of the Periop(erative) Penguins wore a combination of black leggings, black stockings and shorts, white shirts, black bras and yellow beaks to take their plunge.

"It was cold. It hurt. But I think we marched really well," group member Cassidy Prall said.

Some members of the group couldn't stay away from the pool and even took a second plunge.

"We did it because we're crazy. It was colder the second time," Donna Stormes said.

While the "Gilligan's Island" group -- made up of Land Title Guarantee employees and family members -- walked the plank, the crowd laughed and cheered for the costumes of Gilligan, Skipper, Mary Ann, Ginger, Lovey Howell and Thurston Howell III, especially when the group put on a theatrical performance before taking the dive.

"We were kind of developing our strategy coming on in here," Stan Urban said about his character, Thurston Howell III.

The Skipper pushed in Gilligan, whom Ginger and Mary Ann jumped in to save, all while the Skipper was floundering and the Howells were throwing money into the pool.

"Skipper saved me so fast, I didn't feel a thing," said Bruce Carta, who played Gilligan.

"What do you expect? It's 'Gilligan's Island,'" said Joan Urban, who played Lovey Howell.

Bunker said each of the groups and their plunges helped make Sunday's event the most successful Penguin Plunge, especially because six participants each raised more than $1,000. To participate in the plunge, each jumper had to raise at least $100.

The event raised $32,000 last year.

This year's Emperor penguin was Pegi Simmerman, who raised more than $4,000 for the cause.

Dave's Dippers won the Colony Costume award, and March of the Periop Penguins won the Colony Award, which is awarded to the group with the most members.

"Even though the ice was particularly hard to manage this year, everyone made it in and out just fine," Bunker said.

Tell that to the milk carton.

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