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Hundreds take the Polar Plunge in Joliet

The Herald News - 3/12/2017

JOLIET ? The Polar Plunge in Joliet still was a daunting challenge, even though the winter has been unusually warm with little snow.

About 387 plungers dressed in a variety of costumes ? and some brave enough to dress only in swimsuits ? waded through the waters of Leisure Lakes Membership Resort on Saturday for the Polar Plunge, an event that supports Special Olympics Illinois.

There was no snow, ice or chilly high winds, but the temperature, nevertheless, was about 26 degrees. This winter is ranked 19th for the warmest winter since 1871 in the Chicago area and tied with two other winter seasons, said Ben Deubelbeiss, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

Boog Byers of Braceville, who came dressed in a pirate costume, said he tried to prepare by taking cold showers.

"There's not much you can do other than jump in," Byers said.

Byers said he took the plunge for his aunt, Susan Byers, who has Down syndrome and participated in Special Olympics.

This year's Polar Plunge was presented by Law Enforcement Torch Run and GEICO to support Special Olympics athletes.

Participants must raise $100 in donations from friends, family and co-workers in exchange for participating in the plunge.

About $98,061 was raised for the event as of Saturday afternoon, and the donation cutoff is April 28, according to Special Olympics Illinois. The fundraising goal was $80,000. Some of the sponsors included Joliet Park District, Leisure Lakes, Fox 32 Chicago and The Herald-News.

The Joliet event was one of 22 held across the state.

Patty Welsh, assistant director for Area 7 of Special Olympics Illinois, coordinated Saturday's Polar Plunge and announced each team or person ? along with their contribution ? before they dived in.

"I would encourage people to come out and watch. It's a great time," Welsh said

Welsh said more schools were participating in this year's plunge. Usually, police organizations and athletes participate as well. Some of the schools that participated included Thornwood High School in South Holland and Homer Junior High School in Homer Glen.

Some of the teams came dressed in a tuxedo shirt outfit and wielded canes, while others chose to dress in superhero costumes, Hawaiian outfits, tie-dyed shirts or colorful onesies.

Among the top teams were the District 140 Plungers, Ice-A-Topes for Cami, Team Copsicle and Arctic Eagles, while the top fundraisers were Martin Sanders, Shepard POWER PE, Megan Murray and Margie Justic.

Longtime plungers who came Saturday included Joseph and Mike Kurzawa, also known as the Kurzawa Brothers, who were dressed as Mario and Luigi from the Super Mario Bros. video game series.

Mike Kurzawa has participated in the Polar Plunge for three years while Joseph Kurzawa has done it for seven. Joseph Kurzawa said he works as a Lemont police officer, and his department has a history of supporting Special Olympics.

Mike Kurzawa said there is no preparation for Polar Plunge. He tries "not to think about it too much."

"I'm just glad it's not frozen over," Joseph Kurzawa said about the water.


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