They plunged right into the water so Special Olympics athletes from Illinois can plunge into competition.
About 200 people participated Sunday afternoon in the Illinois Law Enforcement Polar Plunge at Wicks Lake, Jumer’s Casino & Hotel, Rock Island.
The group of plungers gathered in teams at the lake. Many were dressed in costumes and special attire to signify their team affiliations or simply wore crazy costumes just for the fun of it. They dove into the water at least up to their necks and swiftly retreated — many gave high-fives to the divers who stayed in the water to ensure safety.
Among the plungers, all of whom were required to raise at least $75, was Annette Ernst of Milan, who joined a Milan Police Department team. “I’m all for giving back to such a good organization as Special Olympics,” she said as she dried her hair. Her nephew, Anthony Cratton, 14, of North Liberty, Iowa, is a Special Olympics athlete, she said.
She said everyone who plunged had to trek to the lake through the mud. “We realized we were going to get wet before we got wet,” she said. “The anticipation was killing everyone because of the rain.
“I did this willingly,” said Ernst, who accidentally has fallen through the ice while ice fishing. Her eight-person team, which wore pink, raised more than $1,400. Ernst wore “Hello Kitty” pajamas during her dive.
“We ran in, up to our necks, and out we came,” she said. “It was just exhilarating.”
After the plunge, teams gathered with friends and families to celebrate and have lunch in the D. James Jumer Event Center. Cathy Betar, of Monmouth, Ill., area director for Special Olympics Illinois — Western Area 4, said the second annual plunge helps 800 athletes by raising money for those in western Illinois. Because of the money raised in the plunges, “participation is free to athletes and coaches to participate,” she said.
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“Considering the weather was so horrendous, we thought people might not come out,” she said, adding that she was pleased that so many people participated.
Dianne Hoyt, co-chair of the event, was more than an administrator: She went into the water, too.
“It’s like when you go to an amusement park and you don’t want to get on the roller coaster,” she said. “Then, when you’re doing it, you’re screaming and laughing.”
Last year, she remembers, the water was 55 degrees compared to this year’s temperature of 37 degrees.
“It was so cold in the water that the air was warmer than the water,” she said.