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Hundreds take the plunge for a good cause

By Bryan Richardson

Batman, a prison inmate and a polar bear ran into a cold lake Saturday. It’s kind of an odd grouping, but it was for a good cause: raising money for Special Olympics Kansas.

The 6th Polar Plunge occurred at Tuttle Creek State Park with more than 200 participants and 24 teams. For a minimum donation of $75 each, the participants – many dressed in costumes – ran into the 33-degree water, which was about the same as the temperature outside at noon.

Luke Schulte, director of special events for Special Olympics Kansas, said participation was up from about 40 or 50 in 2009. “To have it basically quadruple in size over the last four years is tremendous,” he said.

The goal is to raise $275,000 from the nine plunges across the state, the biggest fundraising event for Special Olympics Kansas. Schulte said the money is used for such things as gym rentals, referees, food and insurance.

Andrea Fouts, of Sigma Alpha Lambda, participated in her third plunge. She said the key to doing a polar plunge is to get a good night’s sleep and not to think about the cold.

Fouts said she wanted to do it one last time before she graduates this year. “I’ve always enjoyed supporting good causes,” she said. “The more people that do this, the more donations they receive.”

That’s why Fouts sent emails out to her friends about the plunge. She managed to convince K-State students Phillip Gomez and Dylan Sonnenberg to join her.

“It was my first time,” Gomez said. “It wasn’t that bad.”

Fouts suggested her persistence got him to agree to join the fundraising effort. “He didn’t want to have to deal with the crap I’d give him if he didn’t do it,” she said.

Gomez said Fouts’s previous experience made him more comfortable with the idea. “I committed to it,” he said. “I figured she had done it two years previously. She survived it.”

Fouts admitted that it is a “crazy idea” when you think about jumping in freezing water in February.

“You mean you don’t do this in your free time?” Sonnenberg asked.

Schulte said a volunteer committee that includes law enforcement, K-State students and business owners makes the event possible.

He said the Special Olympics athletes appreciated what the community does by coming together for them. “It really means a lot to our athletes,” Schulte said. “To see the smiles on their faces makes the work worth it.”

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