Polar Plungers brave 19-degree cold

Chris Kirk

Defying 19-degree weather, 12 mph winds and police who tried to hold them back, some attendants of the annual Polar Plunge took dips into the icy waters of Northwestern’s North Beach to raise more than $35,000 for the Illinois Special Olympics.

Plungers, who each donated at least $75 to participate in the event, began checking in at 11 a.m. Saturday in heated tents along North Beach, Area Director Katie Grisham said.

Participants were supposed to plunge at 1 p.m., but Evanston police officers barred them from the water due to heavy ice buildup along the shore, she said. Organizers brought a bulldozer in to clear a path through the ice, but it re-formed too quickly.

“The plunge wasn’t the point – it was to raise money for a good cause,” said Weinberg senior Michael Marzano, co-president of Northwestern University Special Olympics.

To replicate the frigid plunge as best they could, most attendants simply stood in the bitter wind wearing only their swimsuits, posing as their family and friends took photos. Others rolled in the snow and threw snowballs at each other.

A few participants, however, ignored the outnumbered police and ran through the ice to jump into the water. They later found that their legs, which had been cut on the ice, were bleeding.

Todd Tarroll, a 20-year-old student at Southern Illinois University, and his friends waited until most participants and the police had left to take their plunges.

“We just waited until everybody left and just jumped in,” he said as he wiped blood from his leg in a heated tent. “I didn’t even realize I was bleeding when I came out.”

Regardless, he and his friends said they had a good time.

“It was fun,” said Ryan May, a 19-year-old student from College of DuPage. “I definitely wasn’t expecting the first rush of cold.”

The police did not ticket or arrest anyone, Grisham said.

Among the participants were people from all over Chicagoland, Marzano said. Officers from several police departments, including 15 officers from the Evanston Police Department, acted as volunteers or plungers, Grisham said.

Participants left at 1:30 p.m. and relocated to Carmen’s Pizza in Evanston where event organizers bought pizza for the plungers.

The event, one of many around Illinois, was the fourth annual Polar Plunge in Evanston. Although there were more attendants this year, the event raised $35,000, compared to last year’s $55,000.

Evanston’s plunge followed the Super Plunge, in which 28 “super plungers,” who each raised at least $2,500, began plunging at 5 p.m. Friday. They were supposed to plunge every hour until the event Saturday, but substantial ice had formed by 3 a.m.

Some of the funds generated will go to a May 3 track and field event at Evanston Township High School, hosted by NU to Benefit Special Olympics and Illinois Special Olympics.

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