Mel Prax / Lantern reporter
Some central Ohioans spent their Saturday morning jumping into a chilly body of water – but it wasn’t Mirror Lake.
Every year the Special Olympics of Ohio holds annual Polar Bear Plunges across the state with the motto “Freezin’ for a Reason.”
Paige Ludwig, marketing and developing director of Special Olympics Ohio and co-organizer of the events, said there is about 10 plunges statewide, the oldest being in its 17th year.
The Polar Bear Plunge, held at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium Saturday, raised nearly $76,000 for events the Special Olympics of Ohio puts on year-round, Ludwig said.
Columbus is in its 11th year as a venue for the plunge, and this was the third year it was held at the Columbus Zoo, Ludwig said.
Meghan Weaver, the marketing and developing manager of Special Olympics Ohio and co-organizer of the event, said the Columbus Zoo is an ideal location.
“The zoo is a great fit, we have a great partnership with them,” Weaver said. “Even some of the proceeds raised today go towards a polar bear conservation.”
Fundraising was done before the event through Saturday, and shirts were also available for purchase.
To kick off the plunge, a costume contest was held on the deck of a large swimming pool, located near the polar bear exhibit.
The plungers with the three best costumes took the first leap into the chilly water.
Many participants dressed in costumes and themes including mermaids, tutus and neon colors.
The chilling temperatures settled in the mid-’20s, and snow didn’t stop the nearly 400 participants from jumping in the cold water at the announcer’s countdown.
After an hour of jumps, the final jump was made by the zoo’s own team. The snow stopped, and the sun came out melting any accumulation.
Jason Murray of Westerville and a first-time jumper said he enjoyed the event despite the weather.
“My group and I just had a blast. We’ll be back next year for sure,” Murray said.
In her second year participating in the jump, Beth Berkemer of Columbus reported that it was a chilling but good experience.
“It was way colder than last year because of the snow but such a great time,” Berkemer said.
A “Post Plunge Party” sponsored by Roosters was held in a nearby building afterward.
Local businesses offered fundraising incentives throughout the months leading up to the jump.
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams offered multiple opportunities to win gift cards via a raffle for those who had raised between $50 and $100 at different checkpoints before the jump. Massage Envy got involved by giving away a facial, which was announced the day of the event and Tommy’s Pizza gave away gift certificates.