Residents take the plunge during fundraiser for those battling cancer

Participants benefitted the Taking Steps For Cancer Fund by taking a leap into Grand Lake during Spirit Polar Plunge

Making a splash: participants leap into the icy lake to swim for a cause. MFC's Katie Stuvel estimated about 60 people took the plunge, many decked out in kilts or costumes.
Meg Soyars/Sky-Hi News

Sunday, June 26, was a rainy one in Grand Lake, but the group of brightly costumed people who had gathered at Charlie’s Sports Bar & Grill knew they were going to get wet anyway, when they would dunk into the icy lake later. The group had a good reason for taking the plunge — to raise funds for Grand County residents battling cancer.

The fundraiser, the 5th annual Spirit Polar Plunge, benefited the Taking Steps For Cancer Fund, which is operated by the nonprofit Mountain Family Center, which disperses funds to residents struggling with the costs of cancer treatment. Taking Steps is composed solely of volunteers who sacrifice their time and resources throughout the year.

“There is no professional fundraiser hosting this…volunteers lead us each year, and Mountain Family Center is very fortunate to be the stewards of this money that’s raised,” said Helen Sedlar, executive director and president of the center. “Our partnership through the years has been quite impressive.”

Volunteers who helped organize the Polar Plunge included Judy Eberly, Jackie Tompkins, Dawn Reall, Grand Lake’s mayor pro tem Ernie Bjorkman, Skip and Sandi Parsons, Karen Raymond, and many more. Katie Stuvel, Mountain Family Center’s community programs manager, was also on-hand to help the event run smoothly.

“The efforts here are definitely helping out community, so thank you for rolling up your sleeves to help our neighbors,” Sedlar told the crowd, which grew to 123 people as the day went on.

The Polar Plungers were celebratory. Many of the organizers and participants had been personally affected by the disease, but they had a reason to celebrate — they were raising money to help their community members who were most vulnerable. Many “plungers” were excited to brave the icy water in solidarity with those fighting cancer. And the”‘chickens,” who would stay on the shore, didn’t let their fear of getting wet stop them for the supporting the cause. 

The event started off in Charlie’s with food and drinks, plus live music from local piano entertainer Mark Johnson. There was also dancing: fittingly including the “Chicken Dance,” as attendees clapped and flapped their arms.

The event also featured an awards ceremony for participants who had formed into teams. Prizes included inner tubes (“Because if you go in the water, you deserve to have a little help!” said Judy Eberly), plus trophies for who had raised the most money, the biggest team, and the best costume.

Flamboyant costumes were de rigueur. There was a rooster hovering near the “chicken’” crowd on the shore, a bear with a snorkel and goggles ready for her plunge, a man with a plunger on his head, ballerinas in bright pink tutus waddling around with an inflatable rear end, a Scottish highlander family with black-streaked faces, and plenty of tartan kilts from members of the Kiltz Killing Cancer team.  

A sea of tartan ready for Grand Lake — the Kiltz Killing Cancer team won first place for the largest team at the Polar Plunge.
Meg Soyars/Sky-Hi News

Brenda and Amanda Freeman won third place in the costume contest, Roger Rettig won second place and John Saunders of the “Highlander family” won first place. Saunders looked like he was ready to brave the cold waters as he brandished his sword when accepting his trophy.

The Kiltz Killing Cancer team “kilt” it when they came in first place for largest team. Organizers Dawn Reall and Judy Eberly were proud kilt-wearers for this team.  

Finally, Ernie Bjorkman announced who had raised the most money for the cancer fund. Eberly came in second place and Reall took first.

“Of course, this is all about great money raised to help families dealing with cancer in our county,” Bjorkman said as the pair raised their trophies high. “Dawn and Judy spend hours all year round … organizing this, getting people involved, raising money, so we really appreciate you two.”

For many Grand County residents with cancer, they must face not only physical effects of the disease, but also the cost of treatment. When driving to appointments on the front range, hotel stays, meals and gas can quickly add up.

“With inflation that’s been hitting us hard, groceries are going up 11% and gasoline is going up 7% percent as compared to two years ago,” Sedlar said. “A lot of our community members have to travel for cancer treatment, so the funds today are helping to offset those expenses.”

Through the efforts of Eberly, Reall and many others, the Polar Plunge raised over $40,000. Last year, Taking Steps raised roughly $135,000 for the cancer fund through all of their events.

“It takes a lot of money when you’re battling cancer. The committee this year raised the minimum amount from $3,500 to $5,000 for an individual in a calendar year,” Sedlar said. “We help 35 to 40 residents (in a year) so that is right at $200,000.”

As the group of ballerinas, kilt-wearers, highlanders, and chickens headed down to Gene Stover Lakefront Park, they knew they were jumping into the lake for more than just fun. Onlookers cheered as participants made their way into the water. The bear leapt off the dock, the highlander crashed through the current with his sword held high, and everyone made a splash.

Every person who participated in the plunge (whether they cheered from the dock or dove headfirst into the lake) was helping fellow community members with cancer. So far this year, the center has distributed funds to 20 such residents; in 2021, they assisted 32 residents.

Taking Step’s next fundraiser will be the Sagebrush Western Classic golf tournament Aug. 27. Contact Judy Eberly at for information on the event. And if you need assistance from the cancer fund, please contact Katie Stuvel at 970-557-3186 or

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