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About 450 take the plunge into Lake Superior

Mary Gavitt said she was "roped in" to participating in the Eighth Annual Duluth Polar Bear Plunge today. But nobody roped Gavitt and friend Trish Mertesdorf into dressing up as cavewomen. That was all their idea. Gavitt and Mertesdorf, who are b...

Mary Gavitt said she was "roped in" to participating in the Eighth Annual Duluth Polar Bear Plunge today.

But nobody roped Gavitt and friend Trish Mertesdorf into dressing up as cavewomen. That was all their idea.

Gavitt and Mertesdorf, who are both supervisory assistants at Ordean Middle School, donned animal-print shifts for their dip into Lake Superior as part of the fundraiser for Special Olympics, which is organized by local law enforcement agencies. Gavitt even wore a fake animal bone in her hair, a la Pebbles and Bam-Bam from "The Flintstones."

The get-ups had been borrowed from the Ordean theater program's costume department.

"We were the only two dumb enough at Ordean to do this," Mertesdorf said.

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Even if that were the case, Mertesdorf and Gavitt had plenty of company Saturday in terms of costumes. Jumpers were dressed as jailbirds, can-can dancers, Cupids and members of the Blue Man Group.

Special Olympics spokeswoman Anna Kucera said about 450 jumpers participated in the Duluth Polar Bear Plunge this year, raising about $75,000.

Cousins Matt and Nick Lepak did their first Polar Bear Plunge wearing full-length Tigger and Winnie-the-Pooh costumes. They got the costumes for Halloween about five years ago, Matt Lepak said, and have gotten a lot of mileage out of them. Matt Lepak said he once went downhill skiing in his costume.

Seven women from SMDC's dermatology department made the jump in head-to-toe brown sheaths with ballooning pink fabric on the bottom -- they were toilet plungers. Ringleader Cheryl Larson of Duluth said it was the group's sixth Polar Bear Plunge. In years previous, they've gone as Troll dolls and polar bears.

Though Saturday's 20-something temperatures provided a respite from the recent cold, ice still had to be cleared away to provide open water for the jumpers. Organizers also instituted a rule that jumpers had to go in feet-first in case any ice chunks were lurking underwater.

Jamie Witten, a junior at Marshall School, said she wasn't scared for her first Polar Bear Plunge. Well, not at first.

"I wasn't, until I saw the ice," she said.

But Witten, her sister Nicole, a junior accounting major at the University of Minnesota Duluth, and their friend, Maggie Lane, a junior at Marshall, jumped in anyway, wearing plastic leis and grass skirts. A giant inflatable monkey named Bongo had to stay on shore.

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After the jump, Nicole Witten had just one word for it: "Refreshing."

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