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Whitewater Polar Plunge boosts Special Olympics

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
February 19, 2012
— They screamed. They gasped. A Hooters waitress clad in her restaurant attire hyperventilated.

Some 350 people took the plunge into frigid, 41-degree water at the Special Olympics Wisconsin Polar Plunge at Cravath Lakefront Park in downtown Whitewater on Saturday.


While the icy surface of Cravath Lake was a backdrop for the fundraiser, no one was actually jumping in the lake.


Instead, the fundraiser had a large, portable swimming pool set up near the park entrance.


The pool’s water wasn’t quite cold enough for ice, but it was frigid enough that its lifeguards were two sheriff’s deputies in yellow waterproof survival suits.


The event Saturday was part of a statewide fundraiser to pay for practices and events for the Special Olympics.


Some participants in the plunge wore trunks and swimsuits, while others donned elaborate costumes. There was Batman, a guy in a sombrero and a team of Hooters waitresses. All had raised donation pledges prior to their plunge.


Plunge organizer Raechel Tudjan said the fundraiser raised $55,000 to support the 1,400 Special Olympics participants with special needs in the organization’s Southeastern Wisconsin Region.


Tudjan said the Special Olympics uses a pool for its Whitewater fundraiser because Lake Cravath is too shallow for people to jump in.


Sammi Eaton, 10, of Janesville was a member of one of dozens of teams earning donations for the event.


“I can’t feel my feet!” Eaton squealed as she emerged from her team’s plunge. She was wrapped in a towel, her teeth chattering in the 35-degree afternoon.


Eaton’s team, “Twinkie and The Ding Dongs,” included her friend, Madi Milz, 9, of Janesville, and Eaton’s grandfather, Sabas Soto, of Sycamore, Ill. They had raised $160.


Soto was wrapped in a dark bathrobe and had water running off his black Speedo swim cap.


It was his first coldwater plunge. He said he was inspired after watching Sammi jump last year.


“Usually, I close my swimming pool in October,” said Soto.


“Just a few days ago I was in Barbados scuba diving. The water there was 78 degrees.”


The water at Polar Plunge, on the other hand, was cold enough to completely numb a Gazette reporter’s hand in less than 30 seconds.


Scott Stuessy, a 23-year-old UW-Whitewater student, did the plunge with a group of friends who wore nothing but oversized cloth trunks that Stuessy called “Cupid diapers.”


Stuessy has done three plunges for Special Olympics—one at frozen Lake Mendota in Madison.


“It’s always really cold. But for the cause, it’s worth it,” Stuessy said.


The fundraiser also had changing booths and a warming tent with vendors selling chili and hot chocolate. Proceeds went to Special Olympics.


There was even a vendor selling towels to dry off for $5. For anyone in the plunge who forgot a towel at home, the cost would have been worth it.



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