PARKSTON — People taking part in the Parkston Polar Plunge Saturday experienced a combination of warm temperatures and frigid water as they celebrated raising money for Special Olympics South Dakota.
“It’s been a great day. This is so much fun,” said Anji Burnham, president of Parkston Area Special Olympics.
The Parkston Polar Plunge is one of nine such events across South Dakota presented by South Dakota law enforcement organizations as part of the year-round Law Enforcement Torch Run events to benefit Special Olympics South Dakota. Polar Plunges offer an opportunity for individuals, organizations and businesses to support the Special Olympics South Dakota athletes and programs by raising money and jumping into frigid waters.
Participants raise a minimum of $100 by seeking sponsorship from area businesses for the privilege of taking a dip into cold water.
People mingled at the registration area prior to the start of the event, enjoying a meal and conversation. Scott Schultz, the varsity boys basketball coach for Bridgewater-Emery, was in attendance and planning to join members of his team and the girls basketball team as part of the fundraiser.
“This is a first for me, but my wife and daughter have jumped before,” Schultz said, adding he wasn’t concerned about the water temperature, only the fact that it was all for a good cause. “It’s a beautiful day for a great cause. Everybody really enjoys helping them out.”
Jason Van Roekel, one of the organizers of the event, said the funds raised go toward Special Olympics South Dakota as well as the local branch of the organization, which serves Special Olympics athletes in communities in the area, including Platte, Corsica, Armour, Wagner, Parkston, Ethan, Salem, Bridgewater-Emery and Alexandria. Funds go toward paying for travel expenses and registration fees at Special Olympics events for athletes and their families.
The event usually brings in between $20,000 and $30,000, and Van Roekel, whose daughter participates as a Special Olympics athlete, estimated they were likely on pace to meet that goal again this year. That money is vital to helping the organization serve Special Olympics athletes both in the Parkston area and statewide.
“It’s a big thing to get our kids involved in events and bring awareness to community members in the area that they just want to be like everybody else, and they want to be involved like anybody else in high school is,” Van Roekel said.
About 83 participants qualified to step up to the platform Saturday, where they were urged on by emcee Bob Arnold. He announced prior to the first jumpers entering the tank that even though the air temperature was nearly 60 degrees, the water they would be jumping into was only in the high 30s.
People taking the dip lined up at a trailer provided by the local South Dakota National Guard unit from which they jumped feet first into a tank where three members of the Davison County Search and Rescue team waited to help them back out of the water.
Sydney Heib, Sioux Falls, had taken part in the event in prior years and said the cold water didn’t faze her as she emerged from the tank.
“It wasn’t too bad, but it’s warmer out here,” she said.
Over the course of about 30 minutes, participants took the plunge either individually or with a friend. They emerged mostly with smiles and a feeling of exhilaration.
The event has been held since 1998, and in recent years had been reduced from a yearly event to being held every other year. The warm temperature this year is an exception to the rule, as the last plunge, which was scheduled to be held in 2018, was canceled due to a blizzard. The event prior to that, in 2016, had subzero temperatures before the start of the event.
Still, the pleasant weather outside the tank doesn’t detract from the deep cold of the water.
“It’s still cold. Even though it’s 60 degrees out or whatever it is, the water is still 40 degrees, so it’s cold,” Burnham said.
The dozens of participants worked their way from the trailer to the tank to wrapping themselves with a towel after they emerged from the water. Many were dressed in colorful outfits, including superhero costumes, reflecting the festive nature of the fundraiser.
The event is fun, and important, said Jill Kvanli, Law Enforcement Torch Run Manager for Special Olympics South Dakota, who was at the event to assist.
“It’s important because we have more than 2,600 Special Olympics athletes across the state of South Dakota, and even though we have nine plunges throughout the year, all that money comes back to the 2,600 athletes as well as this area,” Kvali said.
Van Roekel said the organizers of the event plan to keep putting on the plunge to help raise funds and awareness for Special Olympics South Dakota. And he said he welcomes both supporters of the organization and potential athletes to contact them to be a part of a good cause.
“We welcome anybody, if they want to drive to Parkston, we’re more than happy to include them in our group,” Van Roekel said. “It’s like family. The kids open up more when they get to know other kids, and with the parents it’s like an extended family. We’ve all been through the trials and tribulations of raising a kid with a disability.”