Community Pedaling for Pennies inspires namesake plunge
article printed in the Star News and Town & Country (February 14th, 2015)
by Debbie Griffin Contributing Writer
The second annual Plunging for Pennies jumps into action at noon Feb. 21 on Little Elk Lake and makes an extra-big splash as Zimmerman native Jim Rienstra returns from a 15,000-mile fundraising bicycle ride just in time to be the first jumper of the day.
Event organizer Tammy Luukkonen, who worked with Rienstra on the Minnesota to Alaska fundraiser and knows him well, said everyone is excited to have him attend the local plunge that his story inspired. Rienstra’s father, a local man and military veteran, died at age 59 from pancreatic cancer. To honor him, his son set the goal of riding a bike to raise money for cancer research – that was about nine years and more than 18,000 miles ago.
The former pro-BMX biker first tackled a 3,000-mile course from Minnesota to Alaska and realized, after exceeding his goal of $10,000, that he could ride farther and achieve more.
Soon he embarked on a journey through 12 countries aboard a bike nicknamed the Mother Trucker. The fundraiser name Pedaling for Pennies worked well for the long trip, since a $150 donation equals sponsorship of a penny per mile.
He finishes the 18-month journey in Ushuiua, Argentina, just a few days before the second Plunging for Pennies event. Luukkonen said he will travel for 24 hours then have a “very busy few days” before jumping into the frigid waters of Little Elk Lake.
Rienstra blogs about each leg of his travels and posts it to the Pennies website. Luukkonen said some people will be bringing money to the plunge that they’ve been saving mile-by-mile as they read Rienstra’s blog.
Nobody was sure how the inaugural Plunging for Pennies would go in 2014, and organizers were nervous about attendance until registrations and donations poured in during the last week. They set a goal to raise $1,500, so everyone was ecstatic when the event raised more than $6,500 and hosted not only 65 jumpers but also a crowd of about 300 supporters and spectators.
The full proceeds from Plunging for Pennies and Pedaling for Pennies are donated to the Twin Cities-based Randy Shaver Community Cancer Foundation. Rienstra set a goal to raise a total of $100,000 for the charity, and Luukkonen said cancer-survivor Randy Shaver plans to attend the plunge, too.
Registration costs $50 and can be done before the event online or on event day beginning at 10:30 a.m. Rienstra and the other jumpers begin at noon near the Ridgewood Bay Resort, 14255 288th Ave., Zimmerman. To sign up for the plunge ahead of time or to donate, go to www.pedalingforpennies.info.
Luukkonen said jumpers pay only the registration fee. “It is encouraged that people raise more, but it’s not a requirement,” she said.
Donations fuel the whole event, from the people who volunteer to cut a hole through the ice and provide standby medical-rescue service to Sound Spark Entertainment announcing names and everyone donating money, labor and materials. Ridgewood Bay Resort offers food and drink specials for plunge day and donates a portion of the proceeds to the cause.
“It’s amazing the support we’ve gotten from local businesses in Zimmerman,” said Luukkonen, adding that everyone knows Rienstra and wants to support his cause. She said people have been generous not only for the plunge but also to Rienstra. Complete strangers throughout the trip have openly given things like camp sites or other accommodations, water, food and various forms of encouragement.
Luukkonen and her fellow organizers found that a broad community of people gave openly to make Plunging for Pennies happen. The local event seems to have started a new, fun, community tradition.