By Sarah Ryan
Strouds Run State Park looked more like a certain Halloween celebration than a charity fundraiser Saturday afternoon. There were wet suits and flippers, Saran-wrapped bodies, cowboy hats, a 6-foot penguin and a group of police officers from "Reno 911" all parading about the muddy shore.
The wacky scene was prompted not by a holiday, but rather by the first Freezin' for a Reason: Polar Bear Plunge, a benefit for Special Olympics organized by the Phi Kappa Theta fraternity with help from the Ohio University Police Department.
Thanks to their efforts, some 60 people gathered for the privilege of paying to jump into ice-covered Dow Lake on a day when temperatures remained in the low 40s. In addition to Phi Kappa Theta and OUPD, participating teams represented the Ohio Women's Soccer Club, Delta Zeta sorority and the Newman Community, a Catholic student organization.
The benefit raised $8,267 for Special Olympics, with each individual pulling in at least $50.
"I'm really happy with the turnout," said organizer Jeff Madachy, a Phi Kappa Theta member who donned a cowboy hat, aviator sunglasses and green No. 1 foam finger for the plunge. "Especially since this is the first year we've done this. I can't wait for next year's turnout!"
Even after the costume contest was judged by audience approval and winners were selected from each team, people continued to show up to take a dip. Some came prepared in swimsuits and towels, while others seemed to decide at the last minute to run into the icy water in jeans and sneakers.
Team OUPD -- decked out in "Reno 911" attire -- was the crowd favorite in the team costume contest. Lt. Steve Noftz said department members were pleased to do what they could for a cause they have supported in the past.
"It's already a success," Noftz said, noting that every cent of the proceeds goes directly to Special Olympics. "You can't say that about all charity events."
Although her swim left her shivering, Delta Zeta sorority member Mary Quinn said the water wasn't as cold as she expected.