Kuna resident Dan Griffin started 2018 by diving headfirst — well, hands-first — into freezing water.

The tradition started like any New Year’s resolution.

“I’d always tell Maria, ‘Let’s do it next year.’ Then I would forget to do it,” Griffin said.

“I’d be like, ‘Thank God,’” Maria, his wife, quipped.

Finally, in 2007, Griffin “took the plunge,” literally. He wasn’t alone.

Hundreds of others come out to Spring Shores Marina at Lucky Peak on New Year’s Day for the annual Make-A-Wish Idaho Great Polar Bear Challenge. The event is the culmination of annual fundraising by the participants. Money raised goes toward granting wishes to Idaho children diagnosed with terminal illnesses.

Since his first dive, Griffin’s son, a nephew and a few friends have joined Griffin in the Make-A-Wish Idaho Great Polar Bear Challenge. What started as a bucket-list item became an annual tradition, with a competitive element.

“It became, ‘Let’s see how much we can actually raise,’” Griffin said.

This group, dressed in robes and wearing chicken hats, named themselves the “Frozen Nuggets.”

“You feel a tingling,” Griffin said, describing the plunge into freezing water. “Like pins and needles.”

“That’s called ‘hypothermia,’” Marie supplied.

Griffin’s secret to success: Keep your feet warm. He wears his boots right up until he dives in. After the plunge, he quickly dries his feet then slides on his boots. Sometimes he puts small hand warmers in his boots for extra heat.

While the event is fun, Griffin said his real motivation is Make-A-Wish Idaho. Griffin raised $2,770 this year. The most he’s raised was $3,100 in 2014.

“It’s a great cause because not only does it help children get a wish,” Griffin said, “but it also helps bring families together for an unforgettable experience, to make memories.”

MAKE-A-WISH GREAT POLAR BEAR CHALLENGE

It all started with two men and a love of water skiing.

About 20 years ago, volunteers Gary Arbaugh and Larry Gebert, KTVB meteorologist, started water skiing at Lucky Peak on New Year’s Day, no matter how cold the water was.

Five years into their tradition, they decided to turn it into a bigger event. Thus the Great Polar Bear Challenge was born.

This year was the 15th anniversary of the event. About 275 people registered to run into the freezing waters of Spring Shores Marina at Lucky Peak on Jan. 1, the Idaho Press-Tribune reported.

The challenge is open to anyone, though youth participation is up to parental discretion.

Registration is free, but participants are asked to contribute to Make-A-Wish Idaho. Special Event and Development Manager Helena Peterson said this year they raised $34,500, which is a typical amount.

That money can fund five wishes, according to Peterson. The average wish costs about $6,500.

FUNDRAISING EVENTS TO COME

Griffin starts his fundraising around April with a steak dinner or spaghetti feed at the Longhorn Lounge.

This year, recently opened Big Mic’s is also ready to help host a fundraising event. A donation page to sponsor Griffin will become available in September.

On New Year’s Eve, Griffin will pass around his donation jar at the Longhorn Lounge and Big Mic’s.

“It’s like fundraising for a walk-a-thon,” Peterson said. “For example some might say they won’t go in until they raise $1,000 to encourage donations. We deeply appreciate all who participate.”

Over the 10 years he’s participated, Griffin has been the top fundraiser three times.

He just can’t stop.

Griffin said this year was going to be his last year, Mike Larson, owner of Big Mic’s, told Griffin he is planning on sponsoring again.

“It feels good that after 10 years I’ve developed a name for myself,” Griffin said. “The money goes where it’s supposed to go.”

“Kuna is a good town,” Maria added.

Griffin said he is especially thankful to his sponsors and everyone who donates.

“It’s kind of a responsibility,” Griffin said. “If people are going to donate to Make-A-Wish, I’d be cheating (Make-A-Wish) out of money if I didn’t do it.”

Alx Stevens is the reporter for Kuna Melba News. Contact her at 208-922-3008 or editor@kunamelba.com.

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