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Polar ‘plungers’ raise $61K for Special Olympics Ohio

Cody Cousino / Asst. multimedia editor

Mirror Lake Jump. Selection Sunday Jump. Polar Bear Plunge.

For some reason, people in Columbus love the idea of jumping into ice-cold bodies of water en masse.

On Saturday at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, more than 300 people plunged into a swimming pool filled with 34-degree water at Central Ohio’s 9th Annual Polar Bear Plunge, a fundraising event for Special Olympics Ohio.

Paige Ludwig, director of marketing and development at Special Olympics Ohio, said Saturday’s plunge helped raise about $61,000 for the organization.

“We more than tripled last year’s amount,” Ludwig said.

To take the plunge, high school and college students had to raise at least $50 and all other jumpers had to raise $75, Ludwig said. One group raised more than $11,000.

“These events provide the much-needed funds for operating all of the programs we do throughout the year,” Ludwig said.

The water might have been cold, but spirits were warm as more than 500 on-lookers laughed during the costume competition — complete with an outhouse, a bag of Polar Ice made of bubble wrap and a gorilla with a tiara and sash reading “Miss Ann Arbor” — and cheered as jumpers walked onto the platform and took the plunge.

Ross Ferrise and Larry Berliner, graduate students at Ohio State’s Fisher College of Business who sported wool business suits and leather briefcases, said they’ve been in colder water.

“It was shockingly colder than I expected,” Ferrise said, with Berliner adding, “But it wasn’t as bad as Mirror Lake.”

They said the jump was also a chance for them to support a good cause.

“Special Olympics is one of my favorite charities,” Ferrise said. “We’re definitely looking to help out any way we can.”

Hannah Crossen and Eric Monroe were also looking to be “Freezin’ for a Reason,” as the event’s tagline said.

“I’m nearing the end of my undergrad, so I wanted to get involved while I have the chance,” said Monroe, a fourth-year in English who just got accepted into OSU’s Moritz College of Law.

Crossen said she agreed with Monroe.

“We were both looking for something extra to help with,” said Crossen, a third-year in agricultural and extension education.

“Plungers” weren’t the only people happy to support Special Olympics Ohio.

The zoo’s vice president of community relations, Patty Peters, said the plunge was a chance for the zoo to give back to the community that has shown them support in the past.

“We get a lot of support from the community,” Peters said. “Any time we can support other organizations in the community, we’re happy to do that.”

Peters said last year’s opening of the zoo’s polar bear exhibit, Polar Frontier, provided the perfect setting for this year’s plunge.

“With the opening of the polar bear (exhibit), I think it just made sense to move it here,” Peters said. Last year’s plunge was at Crew Stadium.

Leonid Polyak is a research scientist at OSU’s Byrd Polar Research Center and helped contribute information on the polar bear’s natural habitat to Polar Frontier. Polyak was at the event with his family, and is originally from St. Petersburg, Russia.

“Oh, this is very warm,” he said of the 42-degree temperature with a wind chill of 34 degrees. “In Russia, it’s much colder than this.”

According to Intellicast, at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in St. Petersburg, it was minus-2 degrees.

Although Polyak didn’t jump, his wife, friend and son did, wearing costumes to promote a message important to them. The friend was wearing all black with a sign reading “Less Fossil Fuels” taped to her midsection. Mrs. Polyak was dressed in white, her sign reading “More Polar Bears.”

“We’re here not only because of the message, but just to have some fun,” Polyak said.

Ludwig said Saturday’s Polar Plunge was the sixth of 11 jumps scheduled around the state.

“When we started, our goal was to raise $300,000,” Ludwig said. “Everything is going ahead of that goal.”

Next Saturday’s Polar Plunge is in Geneva-on-the-Lake in the Geneva State Park.

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