March 12, 2010

Popularity puts chill on polar dips

CLARKE CANFIELD

— By

The Associated Press

When the Lobster Dip was launched 21 years ago, it was the state's one and only happening where people could raise money for a good cause by stripping down in the winter cold and running like screaming banshees into the frigid ocean waters.

These days, it seems as if everybody's getting into the act.

There will be at least nine cold-water fundraisers this winter in Maine -- and dozens more across the country.

But the growing number of such events and the limited number of people crazy enough to jump half-naked into icy water is raising questions about whether these polar plunges are losing their luster and cutting into one another's fundraising efforts.

In Maine, fundraisers will benefit Special Olympics, a domestic abuse nonprofit, a Ronald McDonald House, an animal welfare group, an environmental organization, an animal shelter and Camp Sunshine, for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.

All those events are for great causes, said Phil Geelhoed, president and CEO of Special Olympics Maine. But he's concerned that they might be taking away from the Lobster Dip, which raises about $40,000 for Special Olympics. The figure has been flat in recent years.

''My concern is we haven't been able to grow our event beyond the point that it's gotten to, maybe because of the competition of other plunges around the state,'' Geelhoed said.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine environmental group is holding its first polar swim fundraiser on Jan. 2 in Portland to help celebrate its 50th anniversary and to raise money for its work on global warming issues.

NRCM spokeswoman Judy Berk isn't worried that there are too many polar plunges.

''I think there are enough people to go around,'' she said.

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