STUARTS DRAFT — Snow and ice blanketed the beach at Shenandoah Lake on Saturday, but it didn’t stop participants from sprinting into the frigid water for a good cause.
Forty-four people participated in Valley Associates for Independent Living’s 7th annual Arctic Dip at Shenandoah Acres Family Campground in Stuarts Draft throughout the day.
As of Saturday evening, this year’s fundraiser raised $23,147, according to the event’s fundraiser page. The total fell short of last year’s record-breaking total of $27,715. Still, VAIL executive director Gayl Brunk was very pleased with the amount of money raised this year during the pandemic.
Brunk’s team, the Frosty Flakes, was the first heat to run into the lake this year. Teams were limited to 10 or fewer people because of COVID-19 restrictions and went in different heats throughout the day. Brunk hates being cold, but she was ready to make the sprint in and out of the lake, she said.
“It’s a great day, [and] the sun is shining, so I’m counting on that for a little bit of extra warmth,” Brunk said.
Although the sun was shining, it was only 27 degrees on Saturday in Stuarts Draft. The water temperature was around 45 degrees, and about half an inch of ice was cleared from the water’s surface before dippers entered the lake.
Dipper Dakota Thomas is no stranger to diving into the cold water at Shenandoah Lake. Saturday made the third time the Frosty Flakes team member had participated in the event.
“It’s going to be cold,” Thomas said right before his team lined up along the icy bank of the lake to take their dip.
This year, Thomas raised $1,650, earning him the title of the top fundraiser for the third year in a row.
“We just think it’s a great thing for VAIL to do,” said Valerie Smith, Thomas’ mother. “It’s [something] different for around here, so it brings in the money they need, and it’s exciting.”
Smith said the fundraiser is important to Thomas because of his own experiences growing up as a special education student. It’s special for him to see other adults get the help they need.
VAIL’s mission is to promote self-direction among people with disabilities and allow them to live independently in the community. The organization covers several districts, including Harrisonburg, Rockingham, Staunton, Augusta, Waynesboro, Buena Vista, Lexington, Rockbridge and Bath and Highland Counties.
“VAIL does a whole lot for our community,” said participant Tyler Rich. “They help out a whole lot of people with disabilities, between helping get housing, getting out into the world, helping with ramps for houses and that kind of thing, so it means a lot to me”
Rich is a product specialist at Harrisonburg Honda, one of the event’s sponsors. After seeing ice in and around the lake, Rich knew the water would be cold. He said there’s not much of a way to prepare yourself for it apart from just running in.
“You can’t think about it,” Rich said. You’ve just got to do it.”
Chris Kempton, Shenandoah Acres operating manager, was part of the Shenandoah Acres Family Campground team. He participates in the event every year.
“It’s just great to be a part of it, especially now with everything that’s going on,” Kempton said.
Even with COVID-19 restrictions in place, this year’s Arctic Dip was a success.
“This has just been wonderful to be on what feels like an ‘island of normalcy,’ said spectator Johnathan Atkins, who was there to cheer on his seven-year-old son Clark.
Brunk was incredibly grateful for the Shenandoah Acres staff and local health department who worked diligently to make sure the event could still happen this year during the pandemic.
“It’s something that, despite how different it looks, still feels kind of normal,” Brunk said.