Freezin’for a reason

The first year the Polar Plunge benefitting Special Olympics was held in Vermillion, there were 46 participants who raised $8,000.

Last year, there were 94 jumpers who raised $18,000.

Ryan Larsen, the assistant women’s basketball coach at the University of South Dakota, is the last of the “plungers” to enter the frigid water at Vermillion’s Polar Plunge Sunday. He attempts to convince his two hunting dogs, Tess and Zoe, to take a chilly dip. See a gallery of photos from the event by logging on to spotted.plaintalk.net. (Photo by David Lias)

This year, organizers more than met their goals of 100 jumpers and $20,000.

"We are pleased to announce that today we have 109 plungers," said event MC, Pastor Steve Miller of the United Church of Christ-Congregational. "Last year we raised $18,000 for Special Olympics. Today, friends, we raised $28,977."

The parking lot at Vermillion High School was crowded with onlookers and plungers – many of whom were in costume – on Sunday's chilly, overcast afternoon.

Participants were required to raise a minimum of $100 to take a plunge into the freezing water-filled tank.

"You can either go out and ask businesses for money, or just your friends and family," said Special Olympics coach Jen Law. "We have a really neat Web site where you can go on and create a fundraising page. Then you can put in your goal of how much you want to raise."

The top money-raiser this year was Little Italy's employee Chrissy Gillies, who raised $1,705.

"It feels great to raise money for such a great cause," Gillies said. "Last year, I raised $1,600-and-some, so I topped my dollar amount this year."

One of the primary purposes of the event is to raise funds and awareness for Special Olympics.

To help in this end, Kathie Herrera – the Special Olympics South Dakota Athlete of the Year for 2011 – was on hand to lead everyone in the Special Olympics oath, "Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."

Area Special Olympics athletes were onstage during the oath, as well.

A Burbank resident, Herrera participated in the World Special Olympics Games in Athens, Greece, last year, where she won the silver medals in the 100M Breast Stroke, the 4×100-meter Medley Relay and the 100M Free Stroke, and the bronze in the 200M Individual Medley.

"It was really fun, and I got to meet a lot of new people," she said of the competition. "I made a lot of new friends from all over the world."

Although Herrera had participated in the plunge before, she opted only to take part in the ceremony Sunday.

"It was freezing cold," she said. "I didn't like it – my body couldn't take it."

"Freezing cold," is exactly how Gillies described the experience of plunging, as well.

"You wouldn't think so, but it is. I don't care what people say," she said.

That's not too surprising. At the beginning of the event, Miller announced that the water was about 48 degrees.

That is, it was until several large coolers filled with ice were dumped into it.

"Don't look, plungers, it'll be better if you don't look," Miller implored them from the stage.

The plunge began after it was announced the water temperature had dropped to 40 at the surface, and colder farther down.

These temperatures were often registered instantly on the faces of those who chose to jump into the water, and then scrambled as fast as they could to the other side of the tank.

Many of the participants seemed to be trying to keep as much of their bodies out of the water as possible.

"Just for the record, if you don't get your hair wet, you have to do it again," Miller joked.

To be on the safe side, two rescue divers – Glen and Terry Nelson – were stationed in the tank at all times. Dr. Roy Mortinsen also was on hand in case of emergencies.

Not all the plungers had to withstand the excessive cold – one of the first events of the day was the "kiddie plunge," which featured children 5 years old and younger sliding into a wading pool filled with warm water.

Like their adult counterparts, many of the children were outfitted in elaborate costumes.

Among the more imaginative costumes were a duo of 3 Musketeers candy bars, the Cat in the Hat, Thing 1 and Thing 2, punk-rockers, and rock, paper, scissors.

"Everybody loves to see the jumpers dressed up," Law said. "It just brings people out to see the crazy costumes. … It's always interesting in terms of what you're going to find."

One of the more interesting costumes was the one worn by Dan Bell, a CA from the fourth floor of the Olson dormitory: A wedding dress, complete with veil and bouquet.

Bell's outfit was chosen by a vote of the people on his floor. He said he had narrowed down three costumes – The Joker, Scorpion from Mortal Kombat or a Spartan – and was searching for a fourth.

"I asked my friends, and they were like, 'Wedding dress.' The wedding dress was just a suggestion, and sure enough, it won."

The vote margin was "overwhelming," he added.

"As soon as I released the polls and people started voting, I started calling around saying, 'Hey, I have a feeling the wedding dress was going to win,'" he said "I was trying to call my family and see if they could find me a wedding dress, but not after I asked my sister if I could use hers."

Instead, Bell's sister found him a dress at a consignment store, who gave it to her for free when she told them its destination.

Bell went on to win the "I Can't Believe You Wore That!" Costume award.

Although Sunday wasn't as warm as the days that preceded it, Law said it was on par with one of the previous plunges.

"The first year we had, it was beautiful. We had really nice weather," she said. "Last year was a lot like this – overcast, cloudy and it even rained a little. This year we thought we were going to luck out and it was going to be really warm."

Cool weather or not, the plunge attracted more participation and raised more money than ever before.

Law said she hopes they can keep that record going.

"It just keeps getting bigger," she said.

____

2012 Polar Plunge donors:

$500+ donors

Little Italy's, Louie's Carpet & Upholstery Cleaning, Sanford, University of South Dakota-Nursing/Athletics/Education, SESDAC, Inc., The Graphic Edge, Wal-Mart, Midcontinent

$250 donors

Schoellerman Trucking, Knutson Family Dentistry, Leo's Lounge, Taco John's, Dairy Queen, Masaba, Loren Fischer Disposal, Equalizer, Peterman Photography, The Road House, Great West Casualty Company, Vermillion Rotary Club, Vermillion Police Department

$100 donors

Dakota Realty, Bunyan's, Hy-Vee, Crawford Road Stable, Madsen Spraying, Valley Ag., Gary Madsen Auctioneering, Main Street Pub, East River Storage, First Dakota Bank, Clay-Union Electric Corporation, Latte Da, MidWest Ready Mix, Stewart Oil, Whimp's, Vermillion Ford, Kids of Character, Jones Food Center, Dakota PC Warehouse, Peek-A-Boo Photography of Sioux Falls, Lewis & Clark Regional Water System, Mark's Lawn Care, Marlon Hanson Plumbing/Rentals, Plum Villa Apartments, Royal Car Wash, Vermillion Fire Department, City of Vermillion; Best Western Plus Ramkota Hotel, Vermillion Plain Talk/Broadcaster, Ty's Building Service, Inc., University Plaza, East Gate Plaza, Hallmark Square, East Gate Maytag Laundry, University Rentals, Coyote Chemical Company, Murph's Appliance, First Bank & Trust, Fraternal Order of Eagles, Tri-State Insulation, Brad Waage Construction INC., Tom and Nancy Craig, Pepsi Co./Frito Lay, Mead Lumber, Clowns Around Town/Russ Stone/Greg and Susan Huckabee/John A. Conkling

Judges:

Charlie Coyote

Curt Cameron, Vermillion High School principal

Joe Glen, USD head football coach

Susan Gapp, professor of education at USD

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