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Slush, ice greet giddy Polar Plungers

Despite the freezing temperatures, thousands of people gathered at North Avenue Beach to jump into Lake Michigan as part of the 19th annual Polar Plunge on March 3, 2019. | Victor Hilitski/for the Sun-Times

As polar plunges go, Sunday’s was a bear.

Thousands jumped — giddily, mind you — into brown slush mixed with bits of shattered ice at North Avenue Beach.

A bulldozer smashed a postage stamp recess into a wall of ice that covers Lake Michigan’s shoreline to make the event possible.

“We’re idiots!” one man shouted before running through the 20 degree air to the 35 degree water.

About 20 firefighters and police officers in dry suits formed a ring around the splash area.

“We try to tell them not to jump in and take it slow, but you can only say it some many times,” said one firefighter, chalking up the minor cuts, bruises and one  bloody nose to human nature.

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About 4,500 plungers raised more than $1.6 million for the 19th annual plunge benefitting Special Olympics Chicago. And donations are being accepted though the end of March at chicagopolarplunge.org.

This year’s plunge may have lacked the superstar celebrity punch that in years past included Lady Gaga, Vince Vaughn and Jimmy Fallon, but there were some famous faces in the mix.

It was “Chicago Fire” stars David Eigenberg’s seventh plunge.

“This is the one that hurt,” said Eigenberg, a longtime Special Olympics supporter who paused several times during a brief chat to take pictures with fans.

“It was a lot of slush out there. It was a lot of big ice, my knees got skinned,” he said.

Asked where his co-stars were this year, Eigenberg said with a laugh: “I sent the text out and I got crickets.”

Mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot was there to support plungers, but did not go in the water. Her opponent in the April 2 mayoral runoff,  Toni Preckwinkle, did not attend.

Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, who helped found Special Olympics, was also on hand Sunday. But unlike last year — when she plunged with her husband,  Ald. Ed Burke — she remained dry.

Aldermanic plungers this year included Raymond Lopez (15th), Patrick Thompson (11th), Ariel Reboyras (30th), James Cappleman (46th), Matt O’Shea (19th) and Michael Scott (24th), according to a Polar Plunge spokeswoman.