Monday Medical: 13 years of plunging penguins | SteamboatToday.com

Monday Medical: 13 years of plunging penguins

Susan Cunningham/For Steamboat Today

This year marks the 13th Annual Penguin Plunge — 13 years people have been jumping into the icy depths of the Catamount Lake House pool to raise funds for the healthcare needs of our community. Raising more than one million dollars over the past 12 years, teams have contributed to the purchase of everything from ambulance radios to a CT scanner, from cancer services to digital mammography. Freezin' for a reason this year will support the purchase of specialized equipment for Yampa Valley Medical Center's Emergency Department.

Traditions run deep for many teams, including Dave's Dippers, who will make their annual comeback this year, taking the first jump of the day in honor of the late Dave Linner, one of the passionate individuals who founded the event.

Other teams are comprised of first-timers, sometimes friends, families or co-workers joining together for this frigid fundraiser.

Community support for the Plunge has been strong from its earliest days. While always maintaining a spirit of fun, teams have become more inventive (and competitive) with each passing year.

In the beginning, crowds were entertained simply by the shocked expressions on the faces of those taking the leap into frigid waters. Costumes and showmanship were limited.

But a few years into the event, a group from Land Title Guarantee Company decided to dress in costume and do a performance before leaping into the icy water.

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"It kind of upped the ante," said Ellen Campbell, development associate for the Yampa Valley Medical Center Foundation.

Now, some teams create elaborate costumes and performances, hoping to take first prize in the categories of best theme, best poolside performance, best team spirit and top fundraisers.

A team comprised of employees from YVMC's laboratory won last year for best theme. They dressed as ninjas, rang a big gong and jumped in the icy water after performing a choreographed routine to the tune of "Kung Fu Fighting."

This year, they challenged the employees of the Emergency Department to see who can raise the most funds. Though the Emergency Department's routine is still under wraps, their team is appropriately named "Staying Alive," which fits nicely with both their work and with this year's theme of "The '70s."

"It's a lot of fun, and since it's the '70s, everybody can get in the groove," Campbell said.

"Teams tend to keep their song choice and performance under wraps, because it's become quite competitive," Campbell said. "Just when you think you've seen it all, every year there are a few teams that take you by surprise, and it's usually quite hysterical."

For people who don't care to jump into freezing water, there are good options: be a spectator and enjoy the show or be a "polar opposite." Those team members still raise money and dress in costume, but don't have to dip so much as a big toe into the pool.

Last year, 95 people participated, and about 150 people came out to watch. Chili and cornbread are available for lunch, and a cash bar opens at 11.With an MC and music and a range of community sponsors, this is a feel-good event.

"We've really gained momentum in the community," Campbell said. "It's always in the spirit of competition, but in the end, it's for the hospital."

Susan Cunningham writes for Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at cunninghamsbc@gmail.com.