Taking the Polar Plunge at Lake Wylie

Volunteers raises money for Special Olympics in near freezing water

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comFebruary 26, 2012 

With a toilet plunger fastened to his head, a Mardi Gras-styled mask around his face and a cape made of trash bags on his back, 24-year-old Joshua Myers braced himself for the big leap.

That leap would propel him several feet deep into Lake Wylie at Rock Hill's Ebenezer Park on Saturday alongside 75 other registered volunteers as part of the area's first polar plunge. The plunge, dubbed "Chosen to be Frozen - the Frozen Fans Polar Plunge," hoped to raise $10,000 for Area 11 Special Olympics.

A power lifter and frequent competitor in Special Olympics games - locally, regionally and twice nationally - Myers said he wasn't reluctant to jump in since he's "warm blooded" and rarely feels pain in the cold.

The same didn't hold true for everyone else.

Down at the lakefront, chilly winds blew as more than 100 people gathered to watch the volunteers run, walk or scamper into the freezing water. A deejay hyped the audience with music, while a polar bear mascot greeted visitors and paused for pictures.

On Saturday the temperature was 58 degrees at its highest and event organizers estimated that the lake's waters were around 40 degrees.

It was a climate Terry Hagen chose not to consider.

Outfitted with a bathing suit and a makeshift body-size ice cube composed of pipes and bubble wrap, Hagen posed for pictures with her bocce partner and bowling trainee, Tina Cook.

As partners, Hagen and Cook have adopted the team name "T&T" when competing in games together.

Their slogan: "We're T&T, don't mess with us," Cook said.

On Saturday, it was "get us something warm," Hagen said, and their team name changed to "Iced T&T."

"These kids are my life," said Hagen, who has worked with special needs individuals for more than 15 years. "Why let the money go to the state office when we can keep it here?"

Volunteers who pledged to plunge raised money, while organizers encouraged participants to wear costumes.

Some, such as Joshua and his mother, Patti Myers - the Mighty Myers Plungers - organized into teams. Others, such as Special Olympics bowler and bocce ball player Cameron Neely, went in solo.

Cameron has participated in Special Olympic games since he was about three years old, said his mother, Melissa Neely.

"It's important for the community to know we're here," she said. "After school, they (the community) forgets; they should never forget."

All the money raised goes directly to the Area 11 Special Olympics spring games, where more than 1,000 athletes compete at the state level in a variety of games and sports.

The Area 11 division covers York, Chester and Lancaster counties and participates in statewide track and field meets during the spring, and bowling, bocce and swimming competitions at other times of the year.

The goal, said Area 11 Volunteer Director Kathy Covington, was to raise $10,000 for the games. Some time before the plunge, Covington said the organization more than exceeded their intended target.

The plunge

By 11:50 a.m., the countdown began.

Volunteers lined the edge of the lake as the breeze blew and the announcer counted.

Once the clock struck noon a stampede galloped into Lake Wylie.

Some immediately sprinted back onshore, while others, such as Joshua Myers - who jumped in last - sat, swam and shouted victoriously.

When Ryan Hosenfeld went in, he said the cold took his breath away.

Still, "it feels great, a little cold but great," he said.

Capt. Glenn Williams with the York County Sheriff's Office would probably be inclined to do the same.

Williams, who dived in shirtless but wore striped green tights, silk red shorts and a leprechaun's hat, said he's been helping with the Special Olympics since 1998. He's also done similar plunges in Myrtle Beach.

After making his way in the water and back onto dry land, Williams said yes, the water was "cold, but it felt good though."

For Williams, it's not about the water, he said, but the cause.

Jumping into a cold lake at the end of February, the cause was enough to give him a "warm feeling on the inside," he said. "It'll warm you through and through."

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