Freezin' for a reason

Folks in costume leap into lake for Special Olympics
Feb. 10, 2013 @ 08:05 AM

If you’ve never paid money to don a superhero suit and jump into a freezing lake while “Gangnam Style” plays in the background, you’ve got nothing on the people who gathered Saturday at the Tater Hole.

To be fair, they had a reason. It was all part of Polar Plunge for Caldwell County, an annual event that raises money for the Special Olympics.

And “Gangnam Style” was a product of Yankee Pete, of "The Ace & TJ Show," who took a break from broadcasting in Charlotte to emcee the 2013 Plunge.

The site of the jump was Lakeside Landing (better known as the Tater Hole). Jumpers included costumed superheroes, ladies decked out in bridesmaids’ dresses, a group of South Caldwell athletes and a few brave souls in bikinis.

The registration fee was $25 a person, a price that came with a T-shirt, hot chocolate, a doughnut and one very chilly dip in the lake.

This year, the air temperature hovered around 45 degrees, but the water was much colder.

A cannonball in those conditions might not seem safe, but emergency personnel were on hand to keep things in line.

“It’s really well planned out,” said Jessica Dillard, a paramedic with Caldwell County EMS and Lovelady Rescue. “When they get out of the water, they’ll come to the warming trailer. We’ve also got a boat, two guys in dry suits and two people on the dock.”

So, what goes through the jumpers’ minds when they hit the water?

“I was thinking, ‘Why did I do this?’” Polar Plunge participant Michael Wyatt said, minutes after he emerged from the water.

Wyatt remembered quickly, though -- and said he’d do it all again.

“I did it to help out a great cause,” he said. “If these athletes can overcome what they do every day, I can overcome a few minutes of being cold.”

Most people participating had a similar attitude. Kelly Eldreth, who planned this year’s Polar Plunge, said she jumped in honor of her 17-year-old son, a Special Olympics athlete.

“I was like, you know what, for him to go out into the world smiling every day takes an unimaginable amount of brave,” she said. “I can be brave for just 30 seconds to jump in the water.”

Eldreth’s son competed in the state games in Raleigh in 2008 and has had “awesome” experiences through the Special Olympics, she said.

“It’s confidence, a sense of independence and, ‘Hey, I am good at something. I don’t have to be good at everything, but I’ve got this,’” she said.

Special Olympics Caldwell County gathers most of its funding through individual donations, local program coordinator Melissa Arrington said.

Those donations -- including the ones raised through Polar Plunge -- help fund one-day events like the Winter and Spring Games, out-of-country trips for athletes, and a roster of eight sports: aquatics, athletics, basketball, bocce, bowling, cheerleading, soccer, softball and volleyball.

The fundraising goal for this year's Polar Plunge was $2,500, Arrington said. Participants managed to beat that by $200, for a total of $2,700 raised.