693 plunge into icy cold Crooked Lake for Special Olympics

Saturday, Feb. 9, 693 people plunged into Crooked Lake to raise money for the Special Olympics Minnesota, which gives kids with disabilities the chance to compete in sports.

In order to jump, each person had to raise at least $75. Many collected well above that amount.

Approximately $140,000 was collected for this second annual Anoka County Polar Bear Plunge, which includes online pledges to each team and corporate matching grants in some cases, according to Casey Meyer, development associate for Special Olympics Minnesota.

Coon Rapids Middle School team captain Rick Gabriel leaps into the water. Photos by Eric Hagen

Coon Rapids Middle School team captain Rick Gabriel leaps into the water. Photos by Eric Hagen

Last year’s inaugural event brought in 431 participants and $86,915.

“It fills you up with emotion seeing so many people willing to do this,” said Joan Christoffel, head of the delegation for the Northern Lights Special Olympics team, which covers the Andover, Blaine and Coon Rapids area.

The plungers were filled with a tingly feeling as well as their lower body was immersed in the frigid water with spotters nearby. After they climbed out of the lake, they quickly sprinted up a hill to warm up in a hot tub or to change into dry clothes.

Some wore unique outfits. Maty Rudnitski and Dani Sarette of Coon Rapids were Batman and Robin. There were a few decked out Vikings fans, one with a toilet bowl plunger on his head. Some of the larger teams made their own shirts.

Coon Rapids Middle School had 12 participants last year. Many of them chose to return and new participants joined them, according to Rick Gabriel, a technology education teacher at the school, whose wife Karen Gabriel is the special education department leader at the middle school. The team had 25 plungers this year and collected $7,688 in online pledges, which was the most of any school team.

Click here to purchase photo reprints from the Anoka County Polar Bear Plunge event.

“Now that we have done it, we all agreed that it wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be and will for sure be doing it next year,” said Cindy Bautch, an attendance secretary at Coon Rapids Middle School.

Bautch participated with her daughters Abby and Laura, who are in seventh and eighth grade respectively at the middle school. They and family friend Celeste Hofsted, an eighth grader, were supporting Josh Bautch.

Josh, who is in the fourth grade, has autism and recently signed up to compete in the Special Olympics. They do not know what specific sports he will participate in yet, but said his favorites are floor hockey and bowling.

Coon Rapids Middle School and the Coon Rapids Police Department paired up for a basketball game to raise money.

The Sheriff’s Posse from the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office collected the most online pledges of any team, according to the Anoka County Polar Pear Plunge website. The 40 participants collected $9,005.

According to Deputy Troy Edmond, they went door to door to business to ask for donations and did a silent auction at Andover Lanes. Some children of sheriff’s office employees participated. Lorilee De Los Reyes’s nine-year-old son Zachary volunteered, for example.

“It’s the least we can do. They’re such an inspiration,” said Patty Petermeier, branch manager of the Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union’s Coon Rapids office.

The leader of the 11-member Patty’s Plungers team was Joel Benolkin, who used to be a special education teacher at an elementary school. Other Affinity Plus branch offices participated or will participate in various Polar Plunges throughout the state this winter. The Affinity Plus’ Coon Rapids location opened last summer, so this was the first time it had a team in Anoka County, but Petermeier has done a polar plunge before.

This was the third Polar Bear Plunge that Blaine Police Chief Chris Olson has done. Prior to Anoka County having its own event, he participated in the Minneapolis Polar Bear Plunge at Lake Calhoun.

“Everyone has done a great job to make this a successful event,” Olson said.

Eric Hagen is at eric.hagen@ecm-inc.com

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