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Nearly 300 take Polar Plunge in Colorado Springs for good cause

February 1, 2014 Updated: February 2, 2014 at 5:34 am
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Team Manitoids retreat from the frigid water after participating in the Special Olympics Polar Plunge at Prospect Lake Saturday, February 1, 2014. Photo by Mason Trinca, The Gazette

It wasn't a good day to venture outdoors without a coat and mittens - or pants and a shirt.

But that didn't stop hundreds of locals Saturday from sprinting into Prospect Lake in various stages of undress.

Though temperatures hovered in the 20s, nearly 300 brave souls - some clad in only string bikinis - took the "Polar Plunge" to benefit Special Olympics Colorado.

For a minimum donation of $75, participants were allowed to run under an arch of frosty-blue colored balloons and into the lake, where members of Colorado Springs Fire Department's dive team supervised several yards in.

Once plungers reached the firefighters, they quickly reversed course and attempted to sprint back to shore, where warm tents awaited.

But some found themselves slowed by the wet and cold, and their exoduses appeared more like waddles than dashes.

Among those "freezin' for a reason" Saturday was Air Force Master Sgt. Stephanie Maldonado, who took the plunge with four other airmen from Peterson Air Force Base and the Air Force Academy.

Her daughter, Marissa Busby, has autism and participates in Special Olympics events like bowling and track and field.

"Special Olympics has been so helpful in getting her to socialize more with different people," Maldonado said. "I never thought she'd get into bowling, but she did, and now she has a first-place medal for it."

Maldonado's teammates, fellow "Space Plungers" Tech Sgt. Angelo Bryant and his teenage son, said they'll never forget Saturday as their first - and perhaps last - Polar Plunge.

"It's one of those bucket-list type things," Bryant said.

"We'll look back and say, 'Hey, we did that. And we never have to do it again because we got video,'" he said.

As volunteers and participants packed up and left, plungers Madison Peterson and Edee Chesire lingered, munching on ice cream cone-shaped cupcakes and reflecting on their drafty dash.

The plunge was painfully cold, but they'd do it again, they said.

"It's freezing - it takes your breath away," Peterson said. "You try to run out there and smile, but you're just gasping for air.

Saturday's event raised about $30,000 for Special Olympics Colorado, said Amy Turner, vice president of marketing and communications.

Similar events will be held in Boulder, Aurora and Denver in coming weeks. Funds raised will help the organization provide training in 22 sports and competitions for more than 13,000 Coloradoans ages 2-and-a-half and older with intellectual disabilities.

Event organizers had worried that the continued threat of snow might dampen attendance at Saturday's event, Turner said.

Though flakes wafted through the air that afternoon, most everyone who had pre-registered showed up.

They knew what they'd signed up for, Turner said.

"We can't do a Polar Plunge in 80-degree weather," she said. "It's not a solar plunge."

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