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A splash for Special Olympics - Polar plungers raise $44,000

Echo Press photo by Al Edenloff The team from Apol's Harley Davidson in Alexandria got into the spirit of Saturday's Polar Bear Plunge by suiting up in hog attire - curly tails and all.2 / 4
Echo Press photo by Celeste Beam Six of the 23 members on the Callaghan's Crew team took their turn jumping into the icy waters of Lake Darling on Saturday during Alexandria's fourth annual Polar Bear Plunge for Special Olympics Minnesota. Pictured are (left to right) Randy Karl, Anthony Zimny, Ryan Cook, Aric Risbrudt, Keith Melrose and Luke Erickson. The team, including Callaghan's sister and mom, raised $7,757.3 / 4
Echo Press photo by Al Edenloff Proceeds from the Polar Bear Plunge will help support these Special Olympics athletes who were recognized at Saturday's event. They include (front row, left to right) Nicole Anderson, Natasha Randall (back row, left to right) Kristina Ruud, Maude Swanson and Lois Lee.4 / 4

They all had their own technique. Some made a mad dash for it, belly-flopping, cannon-balling or leaping into the water.

Some took their time, inching up to the edge of the ice a couple of times before splashing in feet-first.

Some wore costumes to boost their bravery - a banana suit, a super hero outfit, a tutu, fashionable hog apparel complete with ears and a curly tail.

Some formed teams. Members of the "Callaghan Crew," for instance, paid tribute to police officer Pat Callaghan, who was killed in an off-duty snowmobile crash, by spelling out his first name in a chant before they hit the water in waves.

But they were all there for the same reason - to have a little off-the-wall fun and to raise money for Special Olympics Minnesota.

Nearly 220 brave souls participated in Saturday's "Polar Bear Plunge," which took place near the Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center on Lake Darling.

They raised more than $44,000, according to local law enforcement officials, who organized the fourth annual event. That's $18,000 more than last year and nearly six times the amount raised during the first plunge.

"It was our best ever, frankly," said Alexandria police officer Jeremy Olson, one of the coordinators. "It's getting better every year. It's amazing how people wrap their minds around this event."

Emboldened by the warm weather - a balmy 35 degrees - some jumped into the icy water multiple times. A young man on the "Captain Underpants" team, for instance, took the plunge at least a half-dozen times.

As warm as it was, the lake was still plenty cold.

Ask Nut Songprayoon, a foreign exchange student from the tropical climate of Thailand who is attending Brandon High School as a senior.

"My body is frozen and right now I'm frozen," she said through giggles after her plunge. "It's so cold!"

Asked why she dared take the plunge, Songprayoon said, "It's a new experience. It's like crazy."

Plunge coordinator Keith Melrose, who is also an Alexandria police officer, took the plunge twice.

"It takes your breath away," he said. "But it's not that cold when you actually get out there and just do it because you know it's for a good cause."

The location switched to Arrowwood this year because the old site, Bug-A-Boo Bay, is now closed.

Aside from some traffic snarl-ups, organizers were pleased with how things went.

"It was our largest crowd ever," Olson said.

The event was sponsored by the Alexandria Police Department, Douglas County Sheriff's Office, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 10, Minnesota State Patrol, North Ambulance and Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center.

Twelve other Polar Bear Plunges were planned at other locations throughout Minnesota this year, including Willmar/Spicer, Rochester, St. Peter, Prior Lake, Duluth, St. Cloud, Brainerd and the Twin Cities area.

Veteran plungers and those interested in taking their first dip into the icy water may want to start thinking about their technique for next year. Organizers are planning to add more activities and costumes and creativity will once again be encouraged.

"It will be bigger and better," Olson said.

More plunge fun

You can dive into more Polar Bear Plunge fun by checking out the online slideshow, with sound, a video clip, and more than 250 photos in a photo gallery located on the front page of this website.