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Plungers brave cold for special cause
February 19, 2016 Jerry Purvis   

Read more by Jerry Purvis

Photos by Kay Grote/Gering Citizen - Deb and Decker Heithold with Husker Plungers make a triumphant and cold entry into the water during the 2015 Polar Plunge.

Local law enforcement and community members will gather at the North Platte River on Feb. 27 for a bone-chilling event to raise funds for a very special cause.

“We’re freezin’ for a reason!” is the motto for the fifth Polar Plunge which will open registration at 9:30 a.m. at the Trails West YMCA Camp in Riverside Park. Plungers plan to wade into the river at 11 a.m.

Captain Jason Rogers with the Gering Police Department said the event benefits Special Olympics. “We have several local Special Olympics athletes that take part in the plunge with us,” he said.

Nearly six years ago, Scotts Bluff County Sheriff Mark Overman promoted the idea of inviting local participants for a Polar Plunge in the North Platte River.

“We formed a planning committee to see what it would take to get the plunge up and going,” Rogers said. “We spent a lot of time figuring out who our local resources were and how they could help us put the plunge together. February 2012 was our first event.”

He said the event wouldn’t be possible without a lot of community help. The YMCA provides their facilities at Trails West. The City of Scottsbluff provides the use of Riverside Park. And corporate sponsorships have been strong throughout the plunge’s history.

Members of the public also play a big part in pledging donations for plungers and also for showing up the day of the even to cheer on the participants.

“It’s a lot of fun to see people get crazy and jump into the river in the middle of February,” Rogers said. “Even if the weather is somewhat bearable, the water is always cold. We’re thankful for High Plains Spas for providing hot tubs for plungers after the event.”

After the plunge, Special Olympics families provide lunch for participants at Trails West. Awards are also presented for categories such as craziest costume, most pledges received, oldest and youngest plungers, and others.

Rogers said the Polar Plunge in 2012, with some 50 or 60 plungers, raised about $10,000 to $12,000. Last year, 143 plungers jumped into the river, raising more than $35,000 for Special Olympics.

“The support over the years has been amazing,” Rogers said. “To raise the second highest amount in the state speaks volumes about the community.”

Members of the public throughout the area are invited to join in the Polar Plunge. A team from Bridgeport usually participates. People from all ages and walks of life come out to have some cold winter fun while supporting a great cause. Two years ago, even a dog participated.

Overman has been awed by the generosity of the community over the years. “I’m so proud of the area,” he said. “On a per capita basis, we beat both Lincoln and Omaha for pledges. The community gets behind this and it’s so gratifying to see that support going to such a worthy organization.”

Special Olympics Nebraska serves about 4,000 individuals across the state, providing year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic style sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Events give them opportunities to develop their physical fitness, demonstrate their courage, and participate in sharing their skills and friendship with other Special Olympics athletes, their families and the community.

“We’ve got the best place in Nebraska for a Polar Plunge,” Overman said. “We’re in a beautiful spot right in the shadow of the Scotts Bluff National Monument.”

For more information, how to raise funds, or participate in the Polar Plunge, visit scottsbluffcounty.org.
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