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Utahns take freezing plunge for Special Olympics


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UTAH LAKE -- "The anticipation is worse" said Melissa Smith after she jumped into Utah Lake where the water was so cold the top layer of ice had to be broken before she could get in.

"It took my breath away," she said. "It wasn't as bad as I thought. I thought I'd have pneumonia tomorrow and I don't think I will now."

Melissa was just one of the 180 people who took a dip into the freezing waters of Utah Lake's Pelican Bay Saturday to raise money for Special Olympics Utah.

This was the 3rd-annual Polar Plunge -- sponsored by the Saratoga Springs Police Department and the Utah Law Enforcement Torch Run Board -- that participants affectionately call "freezing for a reason."


It is a unique opportunity for individuals, organizations, and businesses to support local Special Olympics athletes by jumping or slowly crawling into the frigid, icy waters.

–Lyn Rees


Lyn Rees, director of special events, said, "It is a unique opportunity for individuals, organizations, and businesses to support local Special Olympics athletes by jumping or slowly crawling into the frigid, icy waters."

Participants raise money by getting pledges from friends, co-workers and neighbors to intentionally and sometimes humorously jump into a bitter cold lake.

This definitely wasn't Kansas, but Dorthy, the Tin Man, Lion and Scarecrow didn't seem out of place -- even with the ice all around. Shannon Harton and other coworkers from the Hartvigsen School comprised the cast.

She dressed up as the Tin Man, saying, "Like the Scarecrow, we don't know if we have brains, and like the Lion we need courage, but it's like the Tin Man, we need heart."

The Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics was founded in 1981 by a Wichita, Kansas, police chief as a way to involve local law enforcement with the community and Special Olympics. The Torch Run has now expanded to all fifty states and forty countries worldwide.

This polar plunge is the third one in Utah this winter as local law enforcement officers run the torch across the state to raise money and awareness.

The fourth and final plunge will be at Deer Creek Reservoir in Heber City on Saturday, Feb. 19.

The 2011 Special Olympics Utah Summer Games will begin on May 1 after traveling more than 1,600 miles throughout Utah. Rees points out, "With the money raised, they are able to get equipment, transportation, practice facilities, new uniforms -- whatever they need to participate."

In 2010, Utah law enforcement raised more than $170,000 for the Special Olympics.

Other "plungers" wore pajamas and capes and people painted themselves yellow as characters from the movie "Despicable Me."

Melissa summed up the day best: "Today's definitely different -- a good memory."

E-mail: jcastellano@ksl.com

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Jeremy Castellano

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