DECATUR — Megan Bradshaw couldn’t wait to participate in her fourth Law Enforcement Torch Run Polar Plunge on Saturday.
“It’s a tradition,” said the 22-year-old, who was dressed in a pink Crayola crayon costume. “I look forward to it every year. It’s like a holiday.”
“It’s kind of like the Fourth of July in March,” agreed Bradshaw’s friend, Bethanie Finger, who was wearing a matching green Crayola costume. “This is the first time I’ve done this, and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Helping to make up the five-member team “The Coloring Crew,” Bradshaw and Finger were just two of the 505 participants who braved temperatures in the 30s, snow flurries and wind along the Lake Decatur waterfront as they jumped into the lake to help raise money for Special Olympics Illinois.
Joanie Keyes, Polar Plunge organizer and director for Special Olympics Illinois Central Area 10, said Saturday’s weather conditions were typical of most plunges.
“It’s usually in the 30s,” she said, “and today, the water temperature is actually 36 degrees, which is a few degrees warmer than normal.”
Keyes said the funds raised from the event, in its 11th year locally, will benefit the program’s athletes.
“The money goes toward their training, equipment and awards and also helps the athletes travel to district and state events,” she said, noting that the local area, which includes Macon, Moultrie, Logan and Christian counties, serves more than 700 athletes.
With a fundraising goal of $86,000 this year, Keyes was confident the goal would be met.
“So far we’re at $81,000, and we’re still counting,” she said at the conclusion of the event Saturday afternoon. “We’ve got corporate sponsorships and matching funds that will come in too, so I’m very optimistic that we’ll hit $86,000.”
Keyes said looking back at the first local polar plunge, it’s humbling to see just how much the event has grown.
“It’s really caught on,” she said. “Back 11 years ago, we had 35 plungers and only raised a couple thousand dollars, and now it’s really become a signature event for Decatur. It’s awesome.”
Ken Frye, a Polar Plunge veteran and assistant director at Scovill Zoo, said he was excited to participate again.
“I really enjoy coming out and seeing the costumes people come up with,” he said prior to the plunge. “It’s fun to see how much this event has grown, too. It’s really phenomenal.”
Knowing what to expect when jumping in, Frye said the icy water isn’t necessarily the hardest part.
“When you run into the water, it kind of takes your breath away,” he explained, “and then your legs and feet and the rest of your body starts go to numb. All of that feeling returns after you get out (of the water), though, and changing afterwards is the hardest part.”
Despite the chilly temperatures, Frye, a member of the Decatur Park District’s Plungin’ Penguins team, said taking part in the plunge is worth it.
“It’s a great cause,” he said. “I’m on the local Special Olympics board, and my wife and I volunteer at a lot of Special Olympics events, and it’s just a lot of fun year after year.”
Courtney Lindsey of Decatur, who’s been plunging the last 11 years, said she urges anyone who hasn’t participated in a polar plunge to try it.
“Do it,” she said. “It’s for a great cause, and the funds go 100 percent toward the athletes. We just want to keep raising money for them and watching this grow.”