The initial shock of the ice-cold water steals your breath away at first.
Shock turns to a stinging bite, then numbing cold as the skin gets used to the chill.
For hundreds of supporters of the Special Olympics, this isn’t just an experience they endure, it’s one the look forward to every year.
The way this winter has been going, ice might still be covering central Indiana’s lakes and ponds in early March. But that won’t stop the annual Polar Plunge, which raises money to buy awards, medals and other expenses for Special Olympics Indiana.
“It takes your breath away. We’ve done it a few years when they actually had to break the ice to get it out there,” said Jeremy Stout, a Greenwood resident and supporter of Special Olympics of Johnson County.
Polar Plunge is a nationwide fundraiser for Special Olympics. In Indiana, events are organized all over the state, including at Butler University, West Lafayette and Bloomington.
Stout did his first Polar Plunge in 2008. His wife, Erin, is a special education teacher at Center Grove Middle School Central.
She and her fellow teachers had formed a team the year before, and Jeremy Stout went to watch.
He expected a small group of crazy people jumping in and out of the freezing water. Instead, he found a party.
“The first time I went out there and saw 500 people and music and people dancing, trying to stay warm, it was great,” Stout said. “Everyone is trying to have fun and raise money for a great cause.”
On March 1, people will gather at Eagle Creek Reservoir to take turns jumping in the water. People run as teams, taking time to slap high-fives with the ring of firefighters posted in the water for safety purposes before sprinting back out.
Joining them are Special Olympics athletes, including one chosen to kick off the proceedings by taking the “first plunge.”
Contests are conducted for the largest team, most money raised by a team and by an individual, and a costume contest for those who dress up before taking the plunge.
“They have all kinds of stuff there. We did WWE wrestlers one year, there were Village People out there, zombies one year, the Scooby Doo gang. Over the years, there have been some hilarious ones,” Stout said.
The event will include teams from the Johnson County Fraternal Order of Police Auxiliary, Special Olympics of Johnson County, Knights of Columbus Council 6138 in Greenwood and the Franklin College football team.
Last year’s Polar Plunge in Indianapolis raised nearly $100,000 to support Special Olympics athletics programs.
This year, organizers hope to have more than 700 people involved, setting a new record for the Indianapolis event, said Scott Furnish, chairman for the Indianapolis Polar Plunge.