The beach at Longview Lake is typically thought of as a great spot to cool off on a hot summer day. But it’s also a great spot to cool off in the dead of winter.
And so for the 11th year, the beach played host to the annual Polar Plunge benefiting the Kansas City chapter of Special Olympics Missouri. Jackson County Parks + Rec has been a partner in the endeavor since the beginning.
The event got underway at noon Friday, Jan. 30, with the first of 24 hourly dips into the 35-degree water by two dozen “super plungers.” Each of these hardy and charitable souls had gathered donations of at least $2,500 for Special Olympics. They were scheduled to enter the water once an hour for the ensuing 23 hours, completing their turns as 1,100 regular Polar Plungers showed up on the shoreline for their one splash-and-dash through the chilly water. Regular plungers collected donations of at least $75 each.
2015 was the seventh year for the local super plunge, and the 11th year for the regular Polar Plunge.
Kami Delameter, regional development director for Special Olympics Missouri, said the weekend raised about $300,000 for the charity, which is a year-round program of sports training and athletic competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
“It’s our largest signature fundraising event in the KC metro area,” Delameter said.
Special Olympics gives participants the chance to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage and experience joy. Each year more than 15,000 athletes participate in 21 Olympic-type sports throughout the state.
The number of regular plungers was about the same in 2015 as it was in 2014, but the number of super plungers jumped from 12 to 24. Most of that increase could be attributed to the team of 10 from the Belton, Mo., School District.
High school science teacher and swim coach Martijn Keltner said he had done the regular plunge twice before, but this was his first time for the super-plunge regime.
“We did a lot of different fundraisers,” Keltner said. “The principal allowed us to do a Jeans Week, where the teachers could wear jeans to school in return for a donation.”
Teacher Amanda Crosby stood in the driveway at Cambridge Elementary School and collected donations from parents dropping off or picking up their children. She had never done the Polar Plunge before, but said “The cold doesn’t get to me; I’m from New England!”
Chad Meyer was in his fifth year of the super plunge. He lives at Raintree Lake and is president of Northpoint Development company, which is building luxury apartments in the New Longview neighborhood.
“It’s a good cause,” Meyer said. “My youngest son is 3, so he’s not old enough to participate in Special Olympics, but he will when he turns 8.”
Berma Webb, a member of Jackson County Parks + Rec staff, has helped to put on the Polar Plunge for each of its 11 years. It’s a big undertaking, she said, setting up a tent in which the super plungers could rest and relax in between dips, bringing in food, coordinating with law enforcement, etc. There was even a hot tub temporarily installed on the shore for the plungers to warm up in after their hourly immersions.
“It’s a team; we’re a partnership,” Webb said.
She said 2015 was perhaps the warmest year yet for the plunge, at least at the outset. Members of the Lee’s Summit Underwater Rescue Team, which supervises the event, measured the water temperature before the first super plunge and reported it was 35 degrees.
“The water temperature last year was 23 degrees,” Webb said. “The coldest has been in the low teens, so this is a heat wave. One year it was snowing.”
It’s all relative, said super plunger Chad Meyer.
“The water’s plenty cold; don’t let the lack of ice fool you,” he said. “None of them are that bad until the sun goes down. At 2, 3, 4 a.m., those are the ones you really have to wonder what you’re doing.”