JOPLIN, Mo. —
People could see their breath Saturday afternoon as temperatures barely crept into the low 30s, but that didn’t stop nearly 70 people from running into the frigid water of Shoal Creek for the annual Polar Plunge. By doing so, they raised more than $10,000 to benefit Special Olympics Missouri.
Saturday was Emily Olson’s second time for the event. A sophomore at Missouri Southern State University, she raised $80 by taking the plunge.
Olson said she surprised herself when she decided to dive into the water instead of only running in and right back out.
“You dive in and your body just tells you, ‘Get out now,’” Olson said, laughing. “Yes, it’s really cold, but I just like the experience and atmosphere. We’re all cold together and it’s for a great cause.”
The Joplin and Carthage police departments hosted the event, which is a project of the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Missouri.
Many participants wore shorts, T-shirts or swim trunks. They jumped around and huddled in groups, trying to stay warm while waiting for their turn to jump into the 46-degree water.
After the plunge, they ran to a tent and quickly changed into dry clothes.
It was the first time 23-year-old Chase Jones, of Joplin, participated in the event. Jones said he was nervous before running into the creek, but watching others go in first helped put him at ease.
Diving into the water, Jones said, was the hardest part.
“Once you went under, it was hard to breathe,” he said. “It was pretty cold.”
Jones said he raised $75. He took the plunge with a Sam’s Club group that raised almost $1,000.
About 20 high school students from Carl Junction raised nearly $3,000. The students, who are members of the student council, dressed up in 1980s workout attire, including silver spandex, to take the plunge.
Carl Junction Superintendent Phil Cook participated for the sixth time and plunged into the creek with the students. The entire school district took the initiative to raise money for Special Olympics, he said, and many teachers made donations.
Cook said the students came up with the theme, and they take the event seriously.
“I speak for the kids when I say we’d like to challenge some other school districts to get involved and be part of this,” Cook said. “They have a lot of fun with it, and it’s going to a good cause.”
Robin Anderson, development director for Special Olympics Missouri, said the money raised didn’t reach this year’s goal, but the event still had a good turnout considering the unfavorable weather.
“I do appreciate the people who came up and braved the cold,” she said.
The money raised goes to pay for rental costs, medals, food and whatever else is needed to host competitions. Anderson said several participants raised more than $500.
“That’s what helps keep our program going,” she said.
MORE THAN 17,000 people in Missouri participate in 21 Special Olympics’ competitions, according to Special Olympics Missouri.