First Responders and members of the Amarillo community came in force Saturday on a cold January morning to take a polar plunge for charity at the Amarillo Town Club in Southwest Amarillo. Groups took turns jumping into an unheated outdoor pool on about a 32-degree morning to raise money for Area 16 Special Olympics athletes.
Justin Hoopes, a Navy veteran who is now doing his third polar plunge, spoke about the feeling of going into the freezing water in January.
“It’s not fun, but it is fun. You won’t feel anything after 10 seconds," Hoopes said. “This is for a worthy cause; we did this when I was in the Navy in Chicago. This is kind of a tradition as well.”
Asked about his strategy when entering the water, Hoopes said, "I try to stay as warm as possible because I know it's going to be cold when I go in.”
He said he had done previous plunges in the colder temperatures of Chicago in December, but no matter if it's not as cold, there would be an initial pain of hitting the chilly water.
“It feels like 1,000 needles stabbing you a million times when you first hit the water,” Hoppes said. “After about 10 seconds, you kind of go numb to the effects, and the last time I did it, I started doing the backstroke after the initial shock of the cold water.”
Elizabeth Campbell, who was doing her 10th straight polar plunge, said she is inspired to do the event as to meet new people and see how they deal with the adversity of the cold-water effects.
“I love the passion of fundraising for this event,” Campbell said. “I always help fundraise every year, no matter what. This is the greatest event to start each year.”
She said that her team, known as the “Polar Plungers,” always has a wonderful time each year and enjoys the camaraderie for a good cause.
Sydney Greeson, the Special Olympics program director for Area 16, spoke about why the groups were out freezing for a reason on this January morning.
“We are raising money for our athletes that compete in Special Olympics,” Greeson said. “Everyone who signed up today will jump in that cold water to support a good cause.”
Greeson said that groups like the Amarillo Police Department, which continually has one of the largest teams in the event, could all jump in together to help raise money for Special Olympics. She said she appreciated all the teams that come out each year and their efforts to support these athletes.
She said more than 50 people had signed up for Saturday's event. Greeson also encouraged anyone wanting to volunteer or donate to reach out to the organization and see what events they have.
Jeanette Thorne, executive director of the Special Olympics West Region, said that the event is not just about jumping in the freezing water, but also having other contests related to the plunge.
Thorne said that they have contests for best costume, biggest splash and the team that raises the most money for the event. She said that people have dressed up as every imaginable character, from Marvel superheroes to clowns and even Super Bowl teams.
Last year’s contests, according to Thorne, raised about $5,000. She said she has been involved with the Polar Plunge for about eight years.
Asked what made this event unique compared to other fundraisers she has been involved with, Thorne said, “you have to be really crazy to jump into freezing water, especially when you get out the pool seeing the water freeze on your feet as they hit the concrete."
Thorne said that she was grateful for the community support for this event.
“Something like this, when the community comes together for a good cause, really means the world to our athletes,” Thorne said. “The relationship that we have with our first responders and the community as a whole is really special because, without the community and the volunteer base that we have, I do not think we would be as successful as we have been.”
For more information or to find out more about Special Olympics, go to https://www.sotx.org/area-home?area=2311839 .
This article originally appeared on Amarillo Globe-News: Groups take annual Polar Plunge for Special Olympics