Winnetka’s Leprechaun Leap attracts the brave of heart
Ken Alt of Winnetka prepares to take part in the Winnetka Park District's Leprechaun Leap at Tower Road Beach. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 19, 2013 6:01PM
WINNETKA — Tower Road Beach was covered Saturday in snowflakes, sand and shamrocks.
Cold weather could not keep away a crowd brave enough to challenge the waters of Lake Michigan in March, and the Winnetka Park District’s inaugural Leprechaun Leap was seen as a huge success to the many leapers and supporters who turned out.
“We thought we would take a nice preseason swim in the lake,” said Glencoe resident Lou Harrison. “It has to be quick when you jump in. Otherwise you’re paralyzed and floating to Michigan.”
Harrison and friend John Talbot were disappointed a similar Lake Michigan plunge in Glencoe was canceled, so the duo arrived early to sign up in Winnetka and warmed up with some coffee while wearing their robes.
“Standing on frozen sand radiates through your body,” Talbot said as he stood in a beach-side shelter.
Also attempting to stay warm while preparing for their first winter plunge into Lake Michigan was Winnetka resident Emma Lombardo and her older sister Jane.
“We just want to dunk ourselves,” 11-year-old Emma said. “I’m going in all the way.”
However, Jane, 12, planned to be “in and out,” and had an idea of how to warm up after.
“Lots of sweatshirts and sweatpants,” Jane said.
When the time for the leap came, the bravest dashed toward the shore while their supporters watched from afar, closer to the bonfires on the beach.
More than 50 participants signed up, making staff hopeful the event will become an annual tradition.
Park district Executive Director Terry Schwartz arrived in his swim trunks to show support for his staff by taking his first ever polar plunge.
“On this day last year it was 80 degrees and this isn’t going to be a pleasant dip,” Schwartz said before his dive. “I wasn’t in there long. I fell in and my feet are freezing.”
After a performance from a couple Irish dancers, many headed to the safety of their cars while others mingled near the bonfires on the beach, trying to warm their exposed toes near the flames.
“I ran out to about my waist and dove into a wave,” said Winnetka resident Taylor Tucker, who participated in the dive with her younger brothers Jackson and Elliott.
Taylor and Jackson warmed up by the fire wearing their new green sweatshirts indicating they conquered the freezing lake water.
“Once you touch the water you’re immediately numb,” Jackson said.
Taylor said she would love to try it again next year and offered advice to other first timers.
“Don’t hesitate,” she said. “Just run full-out.”