February 15, 2014 at 1:06 pm

Plungers brave icy Detroit River for Special Olympics of Michigan

Detroit— Hundreds of costumed Special Olympics of Michigan supporters braved the icy cold of the Detrot River Saturday to raise money for the Detroit Polar Plunge.

“This is the biggest fundraiser of the year for Special Olympics of Michigan. It helps 20,000 people,” said Stuart Elsea, one of the owners of Real Estate One, a seven-time plunger and costumed Cher look-alike.

“It’s a good cause.”

Plungers lined up on the dock at Milliken State Park waiting for their chance to leap into the icy river. The water was just below freezing, the air temperature around 15 degrees, sun shining brightly unlike last year’s Polar Plunge where it was snowing. Each group had it’s own method for staying warm. One group sang Journey’s power ballad “Don’t Stop Believin.’” Others jumped up and down to stay heated.

Austin Lazenby and his 15 teammates from the Waterford Kettering 3098 First Robotics Club tried some good old-fashioned snuggling.

“Huddle! Huddle!” he told the group as they waited in line on the dock in their short and blankets. “Shuffle together!”

The team had a group that jumped for Special Olympics of Michigan last year as well.

“It’s definitely an experience you have to experience,” said Lazenby. “You’re body goes into shock at first and then once you get out of the water, you realize how cold you are.”

The annual Law Enforcement Torch Run Polar Plunge series is the largest fundraiser for the Special Olympics of Michigan

The Polar Plunge brings together thousands in crazy costumes to jump into icy waters in 30 cities across the state. On Saturday, plunges were also held in Edwardsburg, East Grand Rapids, Mount Pleasant, Cheboygan, Sault Ste. Marie and Higgens Lake.

Participants raise funds through pledges. Proceeds support year-round sports training and athletic competition for more than 19,600 children and adults with intellectual disabilities in Michigan.

More than $2.9 million has been raised since the first Polar Plunge in 2008.

Richmond resident Nathan Soley and his fraternity brothers from Lawrence Tech’s sigma Phi Epsilon had prepared for the cold by doing a push-up competition. He stood waiting for his chance to jump wearing a Barney the Dinosaur costume. The group raised $2,700 in a friendly competition with the school’s other fraternities.

“It’s a chance for us to drop the books for a weekend, come out and let loose,” said Soley.

Morale was high as the plungers waited. Most cheered or screamed as they jumped into the water. But once they came to the surface, more often than not, there was silence.

“It was so cold, once you get up you can’t even breathe,” said Jessica Wells, of Clawson, who was jumping with the Real Estate One team. “It’s so quick, you in so much shock.”

Wells, a second-time polar plunger raised $540, a contribution matched by her company. She said the second time was much worse.

“In my head I knew how cold it was,” she said. “My head was getting to me this year.”

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Jordan Digianni, 27, of Livonia, is congratulated by her Staples co-worker Garry Ogilvie, 57, of Lake Orion, after their jump. / Todd McInturf / The Detroit News
Member of the USCG assist as Real Estate One employees Dylan Jabs, left, ... (Todd McInturf / The Detroit News)
Matt Simon, 49, of White Lake, is dressed as a cheerleader as he appears ... (Todd McInturf / The Detroit News)