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Plungers discover the chill of the water

Photographer: Wayne Thomas

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Athens Real Estate Company employees hit the water

Photographer: Stephanie Morrison

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Student belly flops in Lake Snowden

Photographer: Wayne Thomas

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Coldest OHIO Polar Plunge has huge turnout

Event raised more than $26,000


It was 19 degrees on Saturday, Feb. 11, with brutal wind gusts and a steady snowfall – not the ideal weather to be jumping in a lake.

However, more than 200 plungers lined the shore of Lake Snowden in Albany to participate in Ohio University's fifth annual Polar Plunge for Special Olympics Ohio.

"This is one of nine plunges," said Paige Ludwig, marketing and development director for Special Olympics Ohio. "It's become one of our signature fundraising events. Last year it generated almost $400,000. It goes to provide year-round sports training and competition opportunities to 23,000 athletes throughout the state.

"We have seven statewide championships that we host. It really is an important program for our athletes. It gets them out in the community and physically fit, showcasing their abilities not disabilities."

There were mixed emotions among the crowd of plungers. A blend of fear, excitement, hesitance and altruism scattered across the atmosphere that afternoon.

Sophomore first-time plunger Julia Foster expressed her terror in making the jump, but made the proper preparations to numb the chilly after effect. She plunged as part a philanthropy event for her sorority Delta Zeta and to support the Special Olympics.

"I'm scared because it's going to be really cold," said Foster. "I brought my water shoes, an extra pair of clothes, a blanket and a towel."

Cathy Hart, event organizer and communication officer for the Ohio University Police Department, at first feared that the weather would deter participants from attending.

Hart's fear soon turned into astonishment as Lake Snowden resembled a spring break beach rather than a February snowstorm.

"It was a brutal day," said Hart. "I was concerned that people wouldn't come out because of the weather but I think our numbers are going to be up."

As plunge time came closer, nerves began to grow. Many people sat, mentally and physically preparing for that fateful announcement. Then, at 1:30 p.m., the herd of plungers was unleashed into the freezing water.

"I would say it was not what I expected," said plunger Theresa Harlacz. "I knew it would be cold, but that was unlike anything I've ever experienced! It was so exhilarating and worth it though! I just had to keep reminding myself what it was for when I couldn't feel my toes!"

According to event sponsors, this year's Polar Plunge preregistered 265 participants and raised more than $26,000.

The Athens Real Estate Company swept the costume contest, winning both the group and individual (owner/broker Russell Chamberlain dressed as fitness icon Richard Simmons) awards.

The event concluded with an after party at Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant, where more than 1,500 chicken wings were consumed by hungry plungers.

Hart said the Polar Plunge was once again successful and fun.

"Overall, there was a good atmosphere at the event and the money will go a long way to support the Special Olympics Ohio athletes and programs," said Hart.