Polar Plunge still chilly despite balmy day
MAHOMET — Wearing a pink bikini, Liesel Flatt, 40, of Sadorus took a deep breath before jumping into the water at Lake of the Woods on Saturday.
“I walked into the lake barefoot,” Flatt said. “When I got in the water, it was like a shock to my system. But I continued until I got all the way wet.”
Flatt was one of approximately 300 people who took part in the annual Polar Plunge, a fun event to raise money for the Special Olympics.
“All of the individuals raise funds for Freezin’ for a Reason to provide sports training and competition opportunities for our athletes,” said Sandy Nash, senior director of development for the Special Olympics.
Officer Jacob Kruse of the Hoopeston Police Department took the plunge in honor of another officer, Travis McCalla, who passed away last year.
“It’s not too bad going into the water, but it is cold coming out,” Kruse said. “My feet were a little tingly coming out. I made sure to wear shoes. I wouldn’t go without shoes. It is a little rocky beneath the water.”
Champaign County Court Services employee Heidi Hewkin, 37, of St. Joseph, took a dip because the son of a co-worker is a Special Olympian.
“I think the Polar Plunge is a great way to get the word out about the Special Olympics,” Hewkin said. “It is a fun team-building event, and it brings everybody together for a good cause.”
This year’s Polar Plunge even included Batman and Superman.
Richie Malivuk, 26, of Paxton wore his Caped Crusader’s cowl as he jumped into the lake.
“I’m a huge Batman fan; he’s my favorite,” Malivuk said. “It seemed like the perfect choice for my costume.”
Next to him swam Chris Johnson, 28, of Paxton, adorned in his old-time Clark Kent glasses.
“I just hope there’s no Kryptonite in those waters,” Johnson said. “Richie may have a utility belt, but at least I can fly to get out of the lake if I have to.”
Dressed in a Speedo swimsuit, Payton Beach, 13, of Rantoul braved the waters for a second straight year.
“It was freezing cold,” Beach said. “I was not expecting it to be that cold. My advice for newcomers is not to wear a huge costume because you’ll get stuck in the water.”
Twenty members of Tuscola High School’s track and field team plunged into the lake dressed in holiday costumes and singing Christmas carols.
Anthony Guo, 17, led the way as the Grinch.
“We had a Christmas theme, so I thought it would be cool to be the Grinch,” said Guo, the team’s discus and shot put thrower. “I consider it part of my training to survive the swim.”
Warriors triple jumper Tyler Seip, 17, survived his swim dressed up as a snowman.
“It’s really cold,” Seip said. “The costume was so heavy when I was trying to get out of the water.”
Hurdler Zach Kibler, 16, completed the course as a wrapped Christmas present.
“The best way to handle it is to just put a big smile on my face and run,” he said. “And don’t drink the water.”
Six members of Champaign Central High School’s Interact Club also braved the chilly waters for a good cause.
“Our club is all about doing service in our community, so we decided this was a cause that we wanted to support,” said Julia Polk, 18. “My feet were really cold waiting to start because of all the melted snow. We all ran in and high-fived the dude waiting in the water (Cornbelt Fire Department dive team member Logan Kaiser), ran back and we couldn’t find our towels. It took us a couple of minutes to start to dry off.”
“This is a fun event, and it is for a good cause,” added fellow Interact member Josie Alameda, 15.
For Rantoul police Officer Eric Ruff, 34, this marked his 10th year taking the Polar Plunge.
“It’s cold but exhilarating,” said Ruff, who did a belly flop into the water. “A couple of us from the police department decided to do something for a good cause.”
Clayton Ahlden, 33, of Bement, was wringing out his swim trunks after surviving his plunge.
“This was one of the warmest Polar Plunges ever,” he said. “It’s almost not fair.”