WASILLA - Who wants to see Les Helfrich in a pink tutu - all 6-foot-4, 275 pounds of him?
"I'll do it if I can raise $500," Helfrich said. "I'll jump in a pink tutu, a little tiara on my head, I'll do the whole thing."
That leap will come Feb. 18 at Rumrunner's at the Mat-Su Resort, when Helfrich will be one of an estimated 100 people brave - or crazy - enough to jump into the icy waters of Wasilla Lake. It's the Mat-Su Polar Plunge, an annual event that raises money for Valley charities.
"There's just something exciting about jumping in an ice cold lake," said Helfrich, who also plunged in 2010. "To be honest, I did not know what to expect that first time. I just saw people do it before me. When I did jump, I was in the air and I looked down in the water and saw slush and thought, ‘oh my, what am I doing?' Yeah, it was cold."
One secret to making the insane decision to jump into near freezing water is to have a supportive wife behind you, Helfrich said. That way, she can push you in.
"It's all just so much fun," he said. "The people are fantastic and they're all jazzed up, it's really a great atmosphere."
It's that charged energy that draws large crowds to the event, said Paula Nance, secretary of the local Sertoma club, which organizes the event. In fact, the plunge is moving this year to Rumrunner's because it's outgrown its previous location at the Elks Lodge on Finger Lake.
"We just ran out of room at the Palmer Elks Lodge," she said. "We had people who drove into the Elks parking lot and we had shuttles, but we didn't have the space (to park) and people were driving off. We're expecting close to 1,000 people and over 100 jumpers. We already have 75 jumpers signed up, and the last two weeks before the event is a whirlwind."
The Polar Plunge started in 2004 with 20 people jumping into Lake Lucille, and has grown since. Overall, the event has raised about $70,000 for local charities, including $15,000 in 2010 and $19,500 in 2011. Organizers are hoping to see that growth trend continue, Nance said, adding each year Sertoma chooses two charities to benefit. This year, it's Special Olympics Mat-Su to help purchase athletic equipment, and Valley Performing Arts, which will use the money to install an audio looping device that will allow people with hearing aids to enjoy performances at the theater.
"I believe this is going to be the first facility in the state of Alaska with it," Nance said. "It's like Wi-Fi for hearing aids. It takes out the ambient sound and makes them hear better."
That fits in perfectly with Sertoma's focus on promoting hearing health, she said.
While it's a lot of work to pull off a large happening like the Polar Plunge, the fun and excitement is always something to look forward to, Nance said.
Jumping into an ice-cold lake "is a breath-taking event," she said. "People dress up in costumes from bikinis to Goofy outfits to hula skirts. We have a full polar bear costume jumping. I don't know how they dry that thing out, really."
Helfrich, support center manager for MTA, is one of those memorable jumpers, Nance said.
"He jumps every year, and I think he dressed in a Hawaiian outfit before," she said. And if he sports that pink tutu? "I think Les will make a wonderful ballerina."
To pledge to support Helfrich or any Polar Plunge jumper, visit the event's website at matsuplunge.org.
Contact reporter Greg Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 352-2269.