Vicki Landwer, 40, of Junction City, celebrates her plunge in Sunny Vale Lake. / Amanda Seitz/Daily Herald Media
A group of men wearing luchador masks enjoys the hot tub after their plunge Saturday during the Polar Plunge event at Sunny Vale Park in Wausau. The event raised funds for the Special Olympics. / Amanda Seitz/Daily Herald Media
Ashley Palmerton, her blue tank top and shorts drenched in chilled water, screeched as she raced up the hill and away from the icy lake.
“Hot tub! Hot tub! Oh my god,” she yelped while she jumped into the tub’s warm waters.
Palmerton, 15, of Rothschild, along with roughly 500 other people, jumped into Sunny Vale Lake on Saturday afternoon, as temperatures dipped to 25 degrees, for the Polar Plunge, an event that supports the Special Olympics.
Hundreds of spectators gave a cheer as, every minute or so, a new group of plungers — who usually were holding hands — jumped into the air and then splashed into the freezing water. Moments after the plungers plummeted into the lake, they would race to hot tubs stationed nearby to quickly warm up.
Turnout for this year’s Polar Plunge was better than ever, with more than 100 additional plungers showing up to register to raise money for Special Olympics and dive into the frigid lake, said Alyssa Matelski, the regional development director for Special Olympics Wisconsin. Special Olympics offers training and competition for roughly 10,000 athletes in Wisconsin with intellectual disabilities. Matelski said event organizers hoped to raise $112,000 this year and had brought in roughly $52,000 just through online donations by Saturday afternoon.
“The Special Olympics athletes love that these people are backing them,” Matelski said of the event.
That’s why Chad Anderson, 38, of Milwaukee took the plunge Saturday alongside three of his buddies, who were baring their chests and donned colorful face masks, capes and pants for the event.
“This is helping kids who need it the most,” Anderson said. “I’ve never felt something so cold in my life, (but) it was for a great cause.”
Vicki Landwer, 40, of Junction City said jumping into the icy water to support those athletes has been on her bucket list for years. On Saturday, Landwer, who was wearing a sombrero on her head as she did the plunge, finally got to check that goal off her list.
“How can you live in Wisconsin and not jump?” Landwer laughed.