BLOOMINGTON -- More than 900 people got uncomfortably cold for charity Saturday.
Participants in the Law Enforcement Torch Run Polar Plunge at Miller Park Lake collected more than $135,000 in pledges Saturday to benefit Special Olympics Illinois Heartland/Area 6, which serves athletes with intellectual disabilities in DeWitt, Livingston, Mason, McLean, Peoria, Tazwell and Woodford counties.
Groups took a quick dip in the frigid lake, some wearing bathing suits or T-shirts and shorts; many dressed in costume, representing ballerinas, pirates, super heroes and chickens.
Thirty-six employees from Wilber & Associates in Normal donned colorful tutus for their first-ever plunge, honoring an employee's daughter.
“We wore the tutus just for fun. Everybody wore one, even our boss,” said Keri Rush of El Paso. “It's a good cause and it will be a Wilber tradition.”
The water was 35 degrees around 10:30 a.m., and the air temperature was 36 degrees. Last year, the water was 34 degrees, said Jill Speer, Heartland/Area 6 director for Special Olympics Illinois.
“We're really lucky with the weather. It could have been a lot worse. It could have been like it was two weeks ago,” said Bev Elston of the Wilber group.
“But it was very cold," added Rush. "It was a rush. It took your breath away.”
Seven people dressed as pirates represented Be Stong Gym in Bloomington.
“As athletes, a lot of us have taken an ice bath before, so we think we know what it will be like. But we were still a little nervous,” said gym owner Drew Whitted.
The group, also in its first outing, raised about $2,000 for Special Olympics.
“We thought it was a good opportunity to help the Special Olympics since we're a gym and we promote athletes at any level,” he said.
Erin Sweeny of Lake Zurich plunged in honor of her older sister, Kelly, who is disabled.
“We always try to give back and live through her because she's low-functioning,” said Sweeny, an Illinois Wesleyan University senior who was among a group of 41 student athletes and coaches. “The water wasn't so bad and it's all worth it when you get out.”
Her group raised about $10,000. Participants were required to collect a minimum of $75 in donations, and each received a sweatshirt.
The event in Bloomington is one of 20 plunges across Illinois. The Twin City event, in its eighth year, is the biggest in the state, Speer said.
“It's a crazy thing. I think it builds camaraderie with the groups plunging. Its an extreme event and its a lot of fun,” she said.