By Ryan Ottney
December 27, 2013
Ryan Scott Ottney
PDT Staff Writer
What started as a crazy dare to impress a woman has grown into an annual fundraiser for charity, and on Jan. 1, 2014, divers will join the Portsmouth Polar Bears for their the Polar Plunge into the Ohio River.
The tradition started 13 years ago at the home of Sam Simon, along the Ohio River.
“The hottest chick that ever showed up in the world came to my doorstep on Jan. 1 (2000) with her now-ex-husband. They said, ‘go jump in the river,’ and if you’d have seen her you would have jumped,” Simon joked.
Every year since, Simon is joined by more and more jumpers each raising money for the charity of their choice. In 2004 the event was moved to the Court Street Landing in Portsmouth.
In the past, Simon himself has used the Polar Plunge to collect money for the American Legion and the Boy Scouts of America. This year, however, his family has been touched by another cause for which he’s taking the plunge. Simon said a his nephew Joey Carver of Wheelersburg became seriously ill with a C. Diff short bowel syndrome two years ago.
“My nephew has recently undergone a miracle surgery where he had received six organs — the first in the world — and he’s survived now, going on his eighth week. He received the stomach, duodenum, kidney, pancreas, liver, and small bowel. There’s six all together,” Simon said.
All six organs were transplanted from one donor, Simon said, and is nephew is now struggling in recovery at Cleveland Clinic. A special blood drive for Carver will be held at Smith’s Pharmacy in January. For him, this year Simon is taking the plunge to raise awareness for organ and tissue donation.
“He’s struggling and fighting, but he still has a positive attitude and he lights up the room,” Simon said.
The event begins at the Blockhouse Bar on Lawson Street in Portsmouth, at 10:30 a.m. on Jan. 1, with warm drinks and celebration. A caravan will take the participants from the bar to the Ohio River at the Court Street Landing, and at precisely noon the divers jump into the icy water.
“It’s really the feeling of a 1,000 needles hitting you at the same time across your entire body,” Simon laughed. “It’s freezing for a reason, for charity and awareness. It’s turned into a decent charity event. We’re not just doing it for fun and crazy drinking. If we can get awareness for the rest home veterans and now for this organ donation — yeah, it’s a good platform to get the word out.”
After, the group will caravan back to the Blockhouse for more drinks and hot bean soup.
Nearly 70 divers took the Polar Plunge last year.
Ryan Scott Ottney may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 287, or firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking news, follow Ryan on Twitter @PDTwriter.