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Polar Plunge Draws Thousands to Freezing, Fun Charity Event

LINCOLN PARK—“I’ve got a piece of ice in my shoe.”

“I can’t feel my feet.”

“Diving headfirst is a terrible idea.”

These were just some of the thoughts captured Sunday, as about 2,500 of shivering Chicagoans made their way up North Avenue Beach after taking the plunge — the 13th Annual Polar Plunge.

Since 2001, Special Olympics Chicago has hosted this oddball fundraiser to support its summer games. While temperatures are freezing and snow still dots the ground, teams of volunteers dress up and jump into Lake Michigan.

“It’s a shock,” said Johnny Mendoza, 33, of Logan Square, who jumped with his wife and friends. “But it’s for a good cause.”

Volunteers at the event put Sunday’s air temperature at 23 degrees and water temperature at 32 degrees.

Teams with names like “Freeze Tag” or “the Rockstar Rodeo” dressed as everything from from lobsters and jellybeans to Care Bears and Ninja Turtles. Some just wore Speedos.

Orland Park resident Tim Swiatek, 24, said he took the plunge for the third straight year.

“I like the cold,” he said. “And every year I raise more money than the year before.”

Becky Blackett, 29, a behavior analyst from Lakeview, wasn’t as thrilled with the temperature.

“We’re going to freeze, basically,” she said while waiting for her turn to plunge.

Blackett works at Easter Seals Metropolitan Chicago, a school for children with autism. She said 12 staffers were jumping to support their students, many of whom participate in the Special Olympics.

For some, the plunge was easier than they thought it would be.

“I think it’s more the anticipation,” said Cynthia Torres, 33, of Logan Square. “You’re waiting in line and you feel the cold, but once you’re out there, it’s fun… I want to do it next year.”

After trudging through brownish, slushy lake water, participants warmed up inside North Avenue Beach boathouse at a "Melt Down Party," where many could be found doing the "Harlem Shake."

In 2012, Chicago Special Olympics raised more than $650,000 at its polar plunge.

This year, teams were asked to donate at least $150 each, and Special Olympics Chicago President Jennifer Kramer said she hoped to top $1 million.

As of Sunday afternoon, the event had raised more about $700,000. Donations will continue to be accepted for a few weeks, organizer Maura Bruton said.