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Lake Wylie 'Polar Plunge' to raise money for Special Olympics

Terry Hagen said she is not wacky. She said she is not goofy. But Saturday, this recreational therapist who has given 15 years of her life to Special Olympians will go to Ebenezer Park on Lake Wylie.

The cold will feel like knives. Hagen will, anyway, strip off her coat and pants with cops standing right there next to her doing the same thing. Nobody will get arrested, when it is about 46 degrees outside, even as Hagen and dozens of people she knows stand there in bathing suits.

“I’m gonna jump into Lake Wylie,” Hagen said. “A bunch of us are – on purpose.”

Organizers hoping to raise money for Special Olympics are calling this first York County winter dive, or jump, or desperate fall, into Lake Wylie: “Chosen to be Frozen – the Frozen Fans Polar Plunge.”

The splash to benefit athletes from York, Chester and Lancaster counties mirrors a wild dash into icy water at the coast each January that benefits the state level South Carolina Special Olympics. Local loonies – I mean, volunteers and workers – decided to do the same here.

"I did the plunge at the coast, in the ocean, and it was freezing," Hagen said. "Cold. Icy cold. Brutal - but worth it."

Scott Wentzky, another organizer and longtime Rock Hill parks worker and volunteer with Special Olympics, said a group at a conference plunged into a hotel pool a few weeks ago, to get ready.

"It was a mini-plunge, but lemme tell you - it was (bleep) cold," Wentzky said. "But this plunge Saturday is a great way to get attention for the athletes, to raise money for a cause that does so much for such great people."

There was a word in there before cold in what Wentzky said, but Wentzky is a gentleman, and that word can only be used underneath 46-degree water, where nobody can hear it.

All the money raised Saturday will go toward putting on the Area 11 Special Olympics spring games April 13, where more than 1,000 athletes participate, and for other local Special Olympics functions.

A bunch of police officers who each year participate in a torch run fundraiser for Special Olympics have committed to plunge. It remains unclear whether each will carry a badge pinned to their Speedo swim trunks, or whether each will be up for demotion next week when the video gets on the Internet.

The two Special Olympians from Rock Hill who participated in the World Special Olympics in Greece last year, Teresa Boehme and Emily Saverance, will be collecting donations at the park Saturday. Boehme won a gold medal in bocce at the world games.

Each of the plungers has to raise at least $50 in advance for the right - the earned chance - to hurtle headfirst into water colder than a politician's heart. Several Special Olympians themselves are raising money and plan to plunge, including Josh Myers, son of Rock Hill firefighter Rusty Myers.

"My son, my wife, and my other two children are all gonna plunge," said Rusty Myers. "Josh has raised more than $200 already."

Many Rock Hill firefighters are expected to take off those heavy turnout gear coats, those peaked visored hats and rubber boots, and dive into the water wearing nothing but those ridiculous red long johns with the flap over the butt that firefighters and old geezers wear. Myers, a heroic firefighter for years, won't go near the water. It is unclear whether he is afraid, brilliant, or owns no silly long underwear.

"My explanation is I am taking pictures, and I am sticking with that story," Myers said.

Anyone can participate or donate in advance. The only prerequisite to dive in at high noon is guts. And because the water will be so cold, extra body fat might be a plus.

Participants are encouraged - but not required - to wear as odd or strange a costume as they want. Past plungers at the beach have been known to wear pink tu-tus. Some of the ladies wore them, too.

"The odder the costume, the stranger the look, the better," Hagen said. "Think about it: You have to be a bit off to jump in the water in the middle of winter anyway."