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Ryan takes the plunge

Have you ever wondered why so many fundraisers involve inflicting pain on the do-gooders?

I did on Saturday, when I voluntarily took the Polar Plunge for the benefit of the Special Olympics. The Polar Plunge meant jumping into 42-degree water. And you thought George Costanza suffered shrinkage?

Let me tell you about 42-degree water. It's c-c-c-old.

Not just anyone could go "Freezin' for a Good Reason." You had to raise at least $50 in pledges first. When co-workers learned that a few dollars would ensure great suffering on my part, the flood of philanthropy almost eclipsed the "We are the World" song to benefit Africa.

It seems counterintuitive that torment benefits good causes. On the other hand, who's going to donate so someone can lounge in a hot tub? Nobody, unless the hot tub water temperature is 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Other pain-inducing fundraisers include running, biking or swimming long distances, with the pledges being made on a per-mile basis. There's even some that involve marathon eating. I'd have no luck getting sponsors for that competition for fear I'd drain the balance of withering 401(k)s.

The Polar Plunge, held in the Canad Inn parking lot, was a hit. Seventy-eight people took the plunge into an oversized Dumpster that served as the lake, bringing a whole new meaning to Dumpster diving.

An ambulance was standing by, in case the frigid water caused some newspaper geezer to develop the heart rate of a hamster.

Most plungers wore a costume. Col. John Michel, the local base commander and the least stuffy military brass you'll ever meet, wore a penguin costume. It seemed an odd choice because penguins are one of the few birds that can't fly. Dumbo the Flying Elephant would have been a more appropriate selection.

But he was cute.

Speaking of cute, WDAZ-TV's Cassie Walder wore multicolored swimwear the likes of which you'd see on Wonder Woman. With color-coordinated lipstick, of course.

People plunged wearing formal wear, apparently wash-and-wear formal wear. One guy was a dead-ringer for the Incredible Hulk.

But the grand champion was Chris "Captain Cannonball" Smith, a Grand Forks County deputy. He not only had a great costume and made the highest splash, but he raised more than $1,000 for Special Olympians such as the world-famous Mark Kauk.

My costume? Well, I wanted to wear my thong bathing suit, but I wasn't allowed. It seems Canad Inn is zoned for commercial, not for gross and disgusting.

Although my cheeky attempt at winning the costume award was derailed by the thong ban, I was the oldest plunger. I believe that also makes me the dumbest plunger.

But I have to admit that it was great fun. And after I dried off, I felt more refreshed than I have in ages. I'll gladly do it again, but only if they rezone Canad Inn.

Reach Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 125; or send e-mail to