The Great Clips team takes the plunge into frozen Lake Monona Saturday as part of the Polar Plunge to benefit Special Olympics of Wisconsin. The event drew a record number of participants to Olin Park, with team members dashing to the hot tub after the freezing jump.[/media-credit]

Despite the frigid Wisconsin winter, thousands of people jumped into Lake Monona Saturday to help raise money for the Wisconsin Special Olympics.

A record number of people traveled to Olin Park Saturday to participate in the 12th annual Polar Plunge, according to John Weichelt, Special Olympics of Wisconsin regional director of development.

“Basically, people are jumping in the cold water of Lake Monona to raise money for Special Olympics Wisconsin,” Weichelt said.

This year, through donations, the event expects to bring in more than half a million dollars for the cause, Weichelt said.

He added with the money, the organization will be able provide individuals with cognitive disorders an avenue to get involved with a wide variety of sports, ranging from basketball to track.

Weichelt described how he personally went about raising money for the event.

“I’m going to do the event; I’m going to ask my friends, family, co-workers to give me money since I’m the one jumping in the cold water, they should really pledge me for the good cause,” Weichelt said.

Abi Nass, a University of Wisconsin graduate student, took part in the plunge with the Capitol City Icebreakers team, which raised nearly $2,000 for the cause. She cited a variety of reasons that compelled her to participate.

“I did it last year, and this was the whole social work idea,” Nass said. “We really try and support different organizations, and we thought Special Olympics was a great organization to support.”

Crystal Gonzales, a student at Edgewood College, also showed her support of the event as one of more than 2,700 participants.

“It’s just a really good way to get money for the Special Olympics,” Gonzales said. “It was definitely worth it. It was so much fun going in there, just the adrenaline rush, and going up there knowing that all the money that we brought was going to the Special Olympics.”

Not every team consisted of a group of friends seeking to experience the cold waters of Monona together. Matt Grimm, a UW alumnus, was part of the 25-team plungers from the AEROTEK Company.

The company was able to raise $9,000 in donations for the cause.

“You’re scared before you jump in, but as soon as you get in, you scream until the end, and then you get in the hot tub,” Grimm said.

Tesse Lake, a student at Edgewood College, was innovative in her approach to supporting the cause. Instead of jumping into the freezing water of Lake Monona, she preferred to hold up signs with her friends in support of those who were making the plunge. 

Even with a diverse group of participants, Weichelt said UW students provide much needed energy and monetary resources toward the cause.

“UW students alone will probably raise over $90,000,” Weichelt said. “We get a lot of help, [students] sit on the planning committee, so there are a lot of students that help plan the event. It’s really got a close tie to the UW System.”