Friday, January 22, 2021
Joe Pumper of the Owatonna Diving Club prepares to get out of the 39-degree water during the club’s 57th annual dive on New Year’s Day.Owatonna Diving Club members Ryan Kubat and Bob Kierski watch another diver during the club’s annual New Year’s Day Dive.

Divers preserve an ice-cold tradition

The annual New Year’s Day Dive in Owatonna wasn’t quite the same this year.

For the first-time in the event’s 57-year history, neither Troy Matejcek nor his father, Don Matejcek, took the frigid plunge. The elder Matejcek founded the annual event in 1963 and his son is now president of the organization.

“Dad tweaked his back a few days before the dive and decided to play it safe,” said Troy Matejcek.

Nine months earlier, the elder Matejcek underwent surgery to remove a mass located where his brain stem joins the spinal cord.

“Before the surgery, he had all he could do to just walk,” said Troy Matejcek. “Three days later, he was walking again.” By summer, the 77-year-old had been cleared to dive again – and he did just that.

“For his age, what he went through is amazing,” said Troy Matejcek.

Instead of diving himself, Troy Matejcek served as a line tender for the dive that took place in the quarry on 36th Street just west of North Cedar on New Year’s Day. And, he said, he was glad he had hold of the rope tethered to Joe Pumper’s harness.

As a diver, Matejcek said, your life line to the surface is the line tender. “Joe’s line got entangled near an old well casing that sticks up out of the bottom.” Using the rope line to signal one another, Matejcek said he knew something was happening. “I gave one tug on the line and got no response…the second time, he tugged back saying he’s OK.”

Had Matejcek not gotten a response, he would have sent a diver down. Turns out Pumper cut the line and tied a hand loop in the line before the entanglement so he could swim out.

Upon his return, Pumper reported visibility underwater at about 10-to-12 feet. The water temperature was reported at 39-degrees.

Pumper was one of three club members to take the plunge on New Year’s Day.

Anyone interested in learning more about the Owatonna Diving Club or scuba diving can email the group at owatonnadivers@gmail.


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Steele County Times

Steele County Times
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