Wearing bathing suits, grass skirts and coconut bras, 61 people basked in Saturday's warm, sunny weather -- and then jumped into the 39-degree water of a half-frozen pool.
While it sounds crazy, most of the emergency and medical workers participating in the fund-raising "Penguin Plunge" said they didn't think twice about taking the leap into the Lake Catamount Ranch and Club pool. A few had to be thrown in.
"I wasn't apprehensive at all," nurse Scott Murrell said. "Actually, the anticipation was killing me. I couldn't wait to get in. First, there was the initial shock of hitting the water, then it was OK, and then it started burning, and I had to get out."
The doctors, nurses, firefighters, hospital staff and rescue workers leaped into the chilly water to help raise money to buy a human patient simulator, or HPS, to train nurses, physicians, emergency medical technicians and Yampa Valley Air Ambulance crews.
The event raised more than $35,000, enough to buy the mannequinlike machine that can imitate a wide range of medical emergency scenarios.
"This is a wonderful opportunity for our emergency medical providers to stay current in their training," said YVMC emergency physician Jeanne Fitzsimmons, after warming up in the nearby hot tub. She agreed with everyone that the water was indeed wintry, but the warm weather on the first day of spring served as a nice buffer.
"It's a temporary inconvenience for a permanent improvement," said West Routt Fire District Chief Bryan Rickman.
For weeks, the volunteer penguins worked to find people to sponsor their plunge. Yampa Valley Medical Center's Public Relations Director Christine McKelvie said the unorthodox stunt helped make the fund-raiser so successful.
"It really caught people's imagination," McKelvie said. "When we saw each other in the hall, people would say, 'how much money have you raised?' It was a real friendly competition to see who could outdo each other, and it brought broad-based support from all over."
"It was so much fun," said Joyce DeLaney, director of the GrandKids program at YVMC. "We will just have to make it bigger and better next year."
The Health Care Foundation of the Yampa Valley hosted the inaugural event, which also was sponsored by several businesses.
After warming up in a nearby hot tub, several of the penguins jumped back into the freezing pool, attacking the men in the protective suits, ripping off their protective gear and exposing them to the cold water. A crowd of people basking in the first rays of spring cheered.
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