'Penguins' endure icy water for cause

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Midmorning was not too early for a stiff Bloody Mary or margarita.

At least not for some "penguins" preparing to jump into a 35-degree pool at Lake Catamount.

Ninety-one brave souls came out Saturday for the second annual Penguin Plunge fund-raiser for the Healthcare Foundation of the Yampa Valley. Participants gathered more than $40,000 in pledges to swim the length of the ice-cold pool.

The money was enough to purchase a computerized infant simulator to train emergency medical workers and hospital staff in Northwest Colorado.

"It's a very, very good cause," said Pegi Simmerman, who posted a sign in her office at Holmquist-Lorenz Construction Company stating, "Have you ever wanted to tell Pegi to jump in a lake?"

The response was good: She raised more than $500.

Kim Johnson and Skyler Bar--ry agreed to join Simmerman on the condition that they wear costumes. The three dressed as hula girls with grass skirts and coconut bikini tops.

They decided on a "Blue Hawaii" theme when they found out they were jumping with Elvis -- dentist James McCreight dressed in a black wig and tight gold lamee jumpsuit.

The penguins jumped in organized groups, most with coordinating costumes, such as the Superhero Soakers, who wore capes and masks, or Los Penguinos, who wore Sombreros and held plastic margarita glasses.

"It thought it would be torture, but it wasn't that bad," said Kris Tratiak, the first penguin in the pool. "I was praying for a menopausal hot flash. Those come in handy sometimes."

Tratiak jumped with the largest penguin "colony," Dave's Dippers, a group of 24 penguins who jumped in honor of Dave Linner, a flight nurse who died in an air ambulance crash in January.

Linner was instrumental in getting the Penguin Plunge off and running last year by encouraging his co-workers at Yampa Valley Medical Center to compete for the most pledges.

About 60 people participated in the 2004 event, which helped purchase Pat, a computerized adult simulator.

"It just became contagious," said Christine McKelvie, public relations director at YVMC. "He was so funny and enthusiastic about it."

Linner won the Emperor Penguin award for securing the most pledges.

"We wanted to honor Dave's memory by making sure to get the Emperor Award and the penguin colony award," flight paramedic and Dave's Dipper Jamie Neault said.

This year, emergency room technician J.J. Ross pulled out all the stops to win the emperor's crown with more than $4,000 in pledges. He called many of Linner's former sponsors and also recruited pledges from his home state of Iowa.

"I was on the phone all day (yesterday) saying, 'Hey, this is a great deal,'" Ross said.

The computer simulators have human-like attributes such as blinking eyes and chests that expand and contract. They also mimic the body's response to seizures, heart attacks and even doses of medication.

The simulators help ensure emergency crews know what to do in the real situation.


-- To reach Tamera Manzanares call 871-4204 or e-mail tmanzanares@steamboatpilot.com

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