By Ryan Richardson
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Cold didn’t begin to describe the water temperatures Saturday in Joplin and Pittsburg, Kan., where upward of 200 people joined in the annual Polar Plunge to raise money for Special Olympics.
Caitlin Smith, 14, and Harley Woods, 14, both of Joplin, participated in the annual plunge into Shoal Creek. The pair are members of the Helpers Volunteer Club of South Middle School in Joplin, and weren’t deterred by the chilly, breezy conditions.
“It was like jumping into a glass of ice water,” Smith said.
“It was cold, but it was definitely fun,” Woods added. “I really want to do this again.”
Robin Anderson, area director of Southwest Missouri Special Olympics, said the event — in its sixth year in Joplin — raised about $15,000 from more than 60 people.
“We can still take donations for Special Olympics,” Anderson said. “There are still 1,840 athletes who need support.”
In Pittsburg, Kan., about 100 plungers gathered at the Crimson Villas Apartment Complex to take part in the event there.
Even as noontime temperatures crept up in the 40s, the water peaked at 37 degrees.
John Lair, Special Olympics coordinator for Southeast Kansas, had divers line up shortly before noon, and they were psyching themselves up for the cold shock that was to come. Lair said the event is one of the biggest fundraisers the group has.
“Every dollar we raise is going to help more and more athletes compete,” Lair said. “The athletes are from all over the area and it’s great to see the same wide scope of residents make the trip down here to help us raise money.”
This year’s goal for was set at $36,000, which Lair confidently believes the participants can beat.
“Every year this keeps getting bigger and bigger,” Lair said.
Many teams turn the Polar Plunge into a friendly competition to encourage more donations.
Donna Davis, of Fort Scott, Kan., was one of 20 members of the Winfield Scott Elementary School teaching staff who participated in this year’s plunge. Davis is a special education teacher at the school. Her team raised more than $3,000.
“We turn it in to a schoolwide event and get the kids informed on what we are raising money for,” Davis said. “We appreciate the Special Olympics programs, and we want to support those programs and the kids who participate in them.”
“I think this is awesome that it keeps growing like this,” Davis said. “It brings a focus to the Special Olympics and the good that goes on with it.”