According to one of its key organizers, the 19th annual Portsmouth Polar Plunge is on despite high water along the banks of the Ohio River.
Now known officially as the James Sadler Memorial, named after a longtime supporter and well-known local veteran, the polar plunge will take place at Jan. 1 at “high noon,” according to Sam Simon, one of the originators of the event.
According to Simon, there is no cost for the event, though participants strongly are encouraged to donate to the charity of their choice. Simon urges supporting local veterans as well as the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in honor of long-time polar plunge participant and supporter, Paul David “P-D” Williams who succumbed to the disease at the age of 40 earlier this year.
Simon said Williams was not expected to live past the age of five but instead was full of life and will be greatly missed by many members of the community. Williams met the woman who would become his wife to be at a polar plunge.
“We want to raise funds for the local veterans in nursing homes and rest homes, to see that they attend at least two fun gatherings during the year,” Simon said.
Simon also says the polar plunge is a fun time to get people together and celebrate the New Year and promote various causes, bringing awareness to such efforts as organ donation as well as cystic fibrosis.
“Supporting organ donation is as simple as checking a box on your driver’s license,” Simon said.
Earlier this week, with the Ohio River rising due to recent heavy rains, the city put up barriers and signs blocking off the Court Street river landing. On Friday, Simon said he visited the area around the landing and it had been reopened. This was somewhat in contrast to comments from Portsmouth City Manager Sam Sutherland who said he was unsure if the landing was open or would be open by Jan. 1. Simon admitted the area contains a lot of mud but added, unless the situation changes, the event will be proceeding as planned. No prior sign-up is required.
This year’s 19th jump (the event started in 2001, according to Simon, although some reports have named this the 20th annual jump) marks the end of the originator’s involvement.
“We are handing over the promotion and operation of this to American Legion Post 23, and the Sons of the American Legion (SAL,)” Simon said. “This will be more of a veterans/ military theme and we certainly hope the tradition will live on.”
Past events have attracted as many as 80 swimmers though Simon said there is a core group of about 30 who appear every year. Participants need to wear shoes and are asked to have some way to warm up – heavy towels, blankets etc., – after taking the plunge.
This year, commemorative tee shirts and hoodies with a new logo, designed by Michael Vermillion of iDesigns, will be made available from the Portsmouth Polar Plunge Facebook page. The design is copyrighted, with proceeds benefiting the local veterans. Concrete Polar Bear paws will also be made available, in white and cammo designs.
Simon later added participants can join some pre-plunge activities at American Legion Post 23 on Court Street beginning at 9 a.m. the day of the event. The pre-swim activities used to take place at the Blockhouse, the bar Simon ran for many years before deciding, as he put it, “I didn’t want to be a tavern owner anymore.” He added the establishment may someday reopen but without him behind the bar.
Sutherland said recent rains had brought the Ohio River up to about 48 feet near Portsmouth. According to the National Weather Service office in Wilmington, which serves the Portsmouth area, local flood stage is 50 feet. Sutherland said “unless we get a whole lot of rain and something crazy happens” there will be no need to put up flood walls around the southern end of the city as happened earlier this year for the first time in two decades.
On a somewhat different subject, Sutherland said the city has begun to receive Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursement for money spent on flood prevention measures taken in February and March. He said the city may receive approximately $170,000.