Polar conditions perfect for Special Olympics plunge

Ursula Watson
The Detroit News

Sylvan Lake — Hundreds of folks with thick skin, warm blood and even warmer hearts made a mad-dash into Sylvan Lake during the Polar Plunge to raise money for Special Olympics Michigan Saturday

The Sylvan Lake Polar Plunge was one of three scheduled in the state Saturday with one at Chippewa Lake and another in Alpena.

By 11 a.m. participants of all ages packed to register in the well-heated Sylvan Lake Community Center, which also offered a roaring fire place.

"It is a great time and a lot of fun. We are running out of room. We don't have enough parking, which is a great problem," said John Martin, Sylvan Lake public safety director.

Martin said preparation for Saturday's plunge began Friday, when he and others cut out large sections of ice that were 24-inches thick.

"This morning when we came back, the ice was two inches thick," said Martin.

At noon a parade of plungers wearing costumes including Martin, who was dressed as Superman, made the cold walk to the lake.

The frigid weather has been a problem for Polar Plunge organizers.

"We canceled 6 of our 29 Polar Plunges," said Andrea Rachko, event spokeswoman for Special Olympics of Michigan. "But all of our plunges that were not canceled did better than they did last year. Some of our plunger numbers were down but our plungers are raising more money for the cause."

This month's temperatures have been unforgiving.

The average temperature for Detroit through Thursday morning was 14.5 — making it the second coldest February since records started in 1874, according to the National Weather Service. The record 12.2 was set in 1875. Another record could fall before the month ends said the Weather Service.

For now, February 2015 is "the fifth coldest month of all-time" the weather service said.

While such polar conditions have prompted school closures and main breaks across the region in recent weeks was part of a persistent pattern drawing in arctic air, plungers like Alek Tasich, 17, was undeterred. Tasich and three fellow seniors from Bloomfield Hills' International Academy were preparing themselves for the plunge.

"It is not as bad as what people think," said Alek of Berkley.

Wearing a Polar Plunge T-shirt, swimming trunks and no shoes, Alek said it was his second year participating in the event.

"I take cold showers every morning so I am pretty used to the cold and I do breathing techniques to keep myself calm," he said. "It is just something I enjoy doing because it is for charity."

Following his first-time plunge Ousseynou Diattara, 9, of Madison Heights was working hard to warm up inside the community center.

"I feel like my chest is frozen," said Ousseynou, who was joined by his 11-year-old brother Malik. "The worst part is my foot. I can't describe it. It is frozen solid."

Ousseynou's mom, Monica Diattara admitted that she was a bit shocked when her son asked to participant in the Polar Plunge. But shock was soon replaced with pride in her two sons.

"I thought it was really cool because it was for a good cause," she said.

Today's plungers helped to raise funds for more than 21,000 athletes who participate in Special Olympics Michigan.

Since 2008 Special Olympics Michigan has raised more than $4 million.

By noon the Sylvan Lake Polar Plunge had raised more than $20,000 according to event organizers.


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