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Freezin' for a reason: Polar Plunge is more than just an event for law enforcement

Law enforcement took Special Olympics on as a charitable cause many, many years ago, according to Willmar Police Chief Jim Felt. Locally, they have sponsored the Polar Plunge for 12 years, since it’s inception as the fourth such event in the state. The plunge is a popular event drawing large crowds as part of the annual Spicer WinterFest celebration. (TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO)

In the 12 years the polar plunge has been part of Spicer’s annual WinterFest celebration, there hasn’t been a documented case of injury among the thousands of participants who in the name of charity have lept into the gelid waters of Green Lake.

It’s a streak local law enforcement is keen to keep in tact, for all the apparent reasons as well as one perhaps lesser known: they helped fashion the popular fundraiser and thus are rather proud of it.

Besides joining other area emergency responders to staff the occasion and provide appropriate support in the event of a medical emergency, local law enforcement entities sponsor the plunge, among dozens scheduled statewide in the month ahead to raise money for Special Olympics Minnesota.

According to its website, Special Olympics Minnesota offers children and adults with intellectual disabilities year-round sports training and competition.

“The Spicer plunge was the fourth of its kind in the state to be established,” Willmar Police Chief Jim Felt said during a phone interview Monday. “Law enforcement took Special Olympics on as a charitable cause many, many years ago, firstly with the Olympic torch run, in which officers would run with the torch for the summer Special Olympics games. The plunge continued that theme, beginning with law enforcement in White Bear Lake, Duluth and Rochester … and then here.”

In the year’s since, Felt said, local officers and deputies have spent countless hours planning and assisting in the organization and promotion of the plunge, which continues to attract hundreds of participants and spectators each year.

Law enforcement personnel line the open lake area to assist plungers during the 2015 Polar Plunge. (TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO)

Last year’s plunge featured 394 participants and raised more than $74,000, according to Tribune archives, bringing the total number of participants locally to 3,069, with $574,635 raised, since that first plunge in 2005.

As of Wednesday, 262 people had registered for this year’s plunge, with $22,339 pledged so far.

The numbers statewide are also impressive: 8,325 registered participants for 20 plunges scheduled through March 19, with $675,395 raised, also as of Wednesday.

“It’s an event we’re proud of,” Felt said. “And it also highlights what people are prepared to do for a good cause. We’ve heard through Special Olympics that per capita contributions tend to be higher for the plunges in rural areas.”

This year’s plunge is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at Saulsbury Beach near Zorbaz on Green Lake in Spicer.

A crew of six emergency responders from Willmar, New London-Spicer and other local departments will man the plunge area to guide participants from the water or assist anyone who may feel disoriented. A large number of participants are repeat plungers, but for newbies, Felt warns, the first time in the water can be disorienting.

“If you haven’t done it before, and you jump in the water and then come up from the water, for a split second it can be one of those ‘where am I and what’s my name?’ kind of things,” Felt said. “But it’s a very short-lived sensation.”

A tent will be provided by Willmar Ambulance and Rice Memorial Hospital for participants to warm up.

Other emergency responders will help with crowd control and registration.

For more information on the polar plunge and other WinterFest 2016 activities and events, visit

To register for the polar plunge, visit

Walk-up registration will be taken at the Spicer American Legion from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday and from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday. The plunge gets underway at 1 p.m.

The Spicer American Legion is located at 155 Lake Ave.

Dan Burdett

Dan Burdett is the community content coordinator at the West Central Tribune. He has 13 years experience in print media, to include four years enlisted service in the United States Air Force. He has been an employee of Forum Communications since 2005, joining the company after spending two years as the managing editor of the Redwood Gazette and Livewire in Redwood Falls. Prior to his current position, Dan was the presentation editor at the Tribune.

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