Tahlequah Daily Press
TAHLEQUAH — When the clock struck 11:30 Saturday morning, nearly 100 brave souls were preparing to dive into the frigid waters of the Illinois River.
The temperature outside at the time: 45 degrees, not bad for a February day in Oklahoma. But with the northeast winds factored in, participants in the annual Polar Plunge knew their ultimate dip into the water would be a cold one.
Still, they were more determined than deterred to support Special Olympics Oklahoma. Group by group, plungers dove into the water and quickly scurried out to the applause of the onlookers. The biggest applause came later, when organizers announced the event had garnered more than $11,300 through sponsorships and donations.
“That was incredible!” said Donna Ham, marketing director for Special Olympics Oklahoma.
Ham told participants about a teacher who ran up to her one day and was excited because a student she’d been teaching for years finally smiled.
“She had never seen him smile,” Ham said. “That’s what you guys are doing — making sure we can provide Special Olympics athletes with a reason to smile. You are making a difference in this world.”
For about the last seven years, Polar Plunge has been held along the banks of the river at Arrowhead Resorts. Brenda Spears helped organize the local undertaking.
“We are raising money for Special Olympic athletes, and what’s really neat about the Polar Plunge is that some of the money goes to kids in schools in our area, and some of the money goes to other kids in the state.”
Participants included the young and the young at heart, and folks from about every walk of life. Cherokee Nation Tribal Councilor Curtis Snell was honored as the oldest plunger in the group, at age 73, while Brody Young was honored as the youngest participant at 5.
The Cherokee Nation Marshal Service was recognized for raising the most money of any participating law enforcement group. Marshal Shannon Buhl said all who participated from the agency volunteered to do so.
“We don’t really enjoy jumping into freezing water in the winter, but we do enjoy what it brings,” said Buhl. “We love what it represents. This is the highlight of what we look forward to every year.”