Rarely do people strip to their bathing suits and shorts to run past floating ice chunks in freezing water, but 241 local students and residents did just that Saturday to benefit intellectually disabled children and adults.
Saturday afternoon marked the fourth annual Polar Bear Plunge at Strouds Run State Park, where volunteers from about 20 teams boldly embraced the ice-cold lake water to raise money for Special Olympics Ohio.
Volunteers raised about $33,000 in donations for the organization, said Paige Ludwig, spokeswoman for Special Olympics Ohio.
"The turnout this year was great," she said. "The number of volunteers has increased significantly over the last four years."
The event kicked off with a costume contest, won by volunteers from the Theta Tau fraternity for their patriotic body paint.
"The Plunge is for a really good cause and it is a great way for us to give something back to the community," said Seth Scharenberg, a sophomore studying mechanical engineering and a member of Theta Tau.
Seven members from the fraternity participated in the event, Scharenberg said, adding that they raised about $340 in donations from professors, local businesses and families.
Another Ohio University group, the Student Council for Exceptional Children, raised about $875, said Jenna Warner, a junior studying special education and member of the group.
Nearly 20 members of the Student Council for Exceptional Children participated, Warner said. The money was collected through online and private donations, he said.
"Because we are special education majors, participating in the Plunge just seemed like the perfect way for us to give back," she said.
The Plunge is one of 11 such events statewide this winter to support Special Olympics Ohio.
The organization provides year-round sports training and competitions for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, Ludwig said. Special Olympics Ohio hosts seven statewide competitions each year, she added.
"I am thankful to Phi Kappa Theta and the Ohio University Police Department for helping host the Plunge," Ludwig said. "We are very pleased with the turnout."