By RICK HAYES
REND LAKE — —
Braving freezing temperatures and snow flakes, several hundred people participated in the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics on Saturday by jumping into the cold waters of Rend Lake for the annual Polar Plunge.
Participants raise at least $75 in donations from friends, family and co-workers in exchange for jumping into the icy waters in the middle of winter. The lake temperature on Saturday was reported to be 40 degrees.
"This is the 13th year for the Rend Lake Polar Plunge which is the longest standing plunge in the south," said Paul Melzer, Area 15 Director for Special Olympics. "People come out because it's for a great cause and it's not everyday that you can raise money to support the Special Olympic athletes. Jumping in a lake in the winter is not something that you would normally do so you're raising money and helping to transform the lives of children and adults with intellectual disabilities."
Proceeds collected by plungers benefit Special Olympic athletes. In 2012, more than $1.6 million was raised by more than 6,288, information states. In 14 years, $8.5 million has been raised by more than 31,000 plungers.
"Law Enforcement Torch Run has chosen Special Olympics as their charity of choice so they do a lot of events, and I know here at Rend Lake there are quite a few law enforcement agencies that support this event," Melzer said.
Several teams from Jefferson County participated in the event, including the Mt. Vernon Police Department.
Assistant Chief of Police Chris Deichman explained why their group participates in the Polar Plunge.
"It's a great cause. We do the Plunge to raise money for Special Olympics in this area, and in the spring we volunteer our time to go down and assist with the spring games in May down at the school (MVTHS). It's a good time, a lot of fun," he said.
Prior to the Plunge, Deichman predicted he would spend little time in the freezing water.
"I'm going to walk across the top and getting right back out," he said. "The water temperature is probably about 35 degrees and it's miserably cold. The quicker the better. You just jump in and jump out real quick," he added.