More than 300 Quad-Citians decided to risk hypothermia to go jump in a lake Sunday afternoon.
At the 14th annual Polar Plunge, the brrrr-ave folks leapt into the 41-degree waters of Wick’s Lake, Rock Island. Each plunger raised at least $100 from sponsors to be "freezin' for a reason' — to benefit Special Olympics.
The funds raised from the Law Enforcement Torch Run Polar Plunge will benefit Special Olympics athletes with intellectual disabilities in the Illinois counties of Fulton, Henderson, Knox, McDonough, Mercer, Rock Island and Warren. Team members’ individual fundraising totals will be merged to form a combined team total.
For most plungers, altruism was the greatest reward.
“It’s exciting and fun and it’s great to be a part of this for a really good cause,” said Christina Cress, 37, of Long Grove.
For Brooke Radech, 36, of Long Grove, it had an additional impact: She’s a school therapist at Camelot, which helps children with disabilities.
“It’s amazing, I have first-hand experience seeing how life-changing the Special Olympics can be to kids, so it’s great to see it get this kind of support,” Radech said.
Organizers, who were pleased with the turnout, expected to raise almost $5,000 from pledges.
“We’re very lucky to have so many great people helping us who want to step up,” said Jennifer Davis, an organizer of the event. “A lot of people come out once to do it. It’s kind of a bucket-list thing for some people. And then there are the die-hards that are out here every year to do the plunge.
"It’s a fun thing," she said. "People enjoy getting together and it’s all to help other people.”
Lana Cummings, 8, traveled more than two hours with her family from Warrenville, Illinois, to help out her friend, Mattix, 6, who has cerebral palsy and is hearing-impaired. “I’m happy to help, and it’s fun,” Cummings said.
Taylor Berg, 31, of Moline, Mattix’s mom, was touched by the response and enjoyed the event.
“It feels awesome to be a part of this. I love doing it every year,” she said. “It’s an awesome way to bring awareness and it’s got such a great energy to the crowd and the event.”
Volunteers were likewise caught up in the upbeat vibe.
“We’re always happy to help,” said Dottie Ray, of Monmouth, Illinois, a volunteer since 2010. “It’s so wonderful to see so many people stepping up to help others.”
It even warmed the hearts of those whose bodies were otherwise pretty chilled: the hearty souls who emerged drenched from the plunge into 41-degree waters.
“You know, it wasn’t too bad,” said Matt McFall, 45, of East Moline, after making his first plunge. “It was actually pretty exhilarating.”
“It was cold but it wasn’t as bad as last year,” said veteran plunger Wally Harkert, 55, of East Moline. “I’m happy to be cold for a little while to help a good cause.”
Statewide, teams are placed into divisions and are awarded prizes for the most money raised. The event also included a costume contest, raffles and other means of fundraising, as well as a lunch afterward and plenty of hot chocolate and coffee.
Each plunger received an official Polar Plunge sweatshirt. Incentive items for raising more money included a grand prize drawing for a seven-night trip for two adults to Riu Palace Peninsula in Cancun, Mexico. For every $500 the plungers raised, they were entered into the drawing.