WATERVILLE — Freezing temps, driving rain and a global pandemic couldn’t keep a small group of die-hard polar plungers away from the banks of the Maumee River Friday and carrying out a New Year’s Day tradition.
The Polar Bear Plunge stayed true to form, starting at 2:30 p.m. in honor of the late Herb Mericle, who began the plunge in remembrance of his wife. They were married at 2:30 p.m.
A group of 15 met at a public fishing area called Miltonville Fishing Access where they jumped into the river. Last year’s event had more than 200 participants jumping into 34-degree water.
“It’s obviously a little different this year,” said Adam Freeman, who organized the 2019 plunge and was among the hardy 15 to jump into the river on Friday.
“They weren’t going to allow it to happen in Waterville or Perrysburg Township, and I don’t fault them. But one way or the other, people are going to do this,” he said. “It’s a little bit different, but we made it happen.”
This was the 92nd year for the plunge, and the second consecutive year for a location change.
Last year’s was at Buttonwood Park in Perrysburg Township.
Construction on the new bridge had closed access to Waterville’s Memorial Park where the plunge had been held for many years. Memorial Park is still under construction.
Perrysburg Township officials declined to hold the plunge, due to coronavirus concerns, said Walt Celley, Perrysburg Township administrator.
“That type of gathering would violate coronavirus restrictions established by the governor and we would not allow that kind of event,” Celley said earlier this week.
After his dip on Friday, Rick Metzger of Monclova said the plunge is a tradition he just didn’t want to miss.
“I’ve been doing this since 1998 and it’s a great way to start out the new year,” he said.
Metzger estimated the water temperature at 33 degrees.
“It wasn’t bad at all,” he said.
Anthony Helfers of Delta has been plunging into the river on New Year’s Day for 10 years, and 2021 would be no different, he said.
“Some how, some way, we had to make it happen,” he said. “It was cold, but not nearly as cold as I’ve done in the past.”
This was the fifth year for Justin Taylor of Toledo to participate.
“It was very different,” he said. “But you know what? We made it. Adam made it happen and everybody came together as a family.
“Herb started this and we plan on continuing his legacy,” Taylor said. “This ain’t going to stop us, man.”
(Sentinel-Tribune multi-media journalist J.D. Pooley did the interviews for this story.)