Eau Claire Polar Plunge sets fundraising record

Story by Katie Bast, Staff Writer

Thirty-two degrees may not sound all that warm, but  for onlookers of Eau Claire’s 14th annual Polar Plunge on Feb. 24, it felt like a spring day. Parkas were shed and sweatshirt sleeves were pushed up as the sun warmed the area around the rectangle cut in the ice at Half Moon Lake.

The Polar Plunge is a high spirited event for a good cause, Special Olympics Wisconsin, where participants take an icy leap into freezing water. According to their website, Wisconsin Polar Plungers have raised more than $14 million for Special Olympics since its beginning.

Regional Director of Development Karen Kraus said she was pleased with the day.

“We could not have asked for a better day,” Kraus said. “This was actually a record year for us. We are right now at $190,000 raised and we still have money coming in.”

Kraus said there were about a thousand people at the event this year when normally the number of attendants is around 1,200 people.

On Sunday, sophomore Charles Kransberger took the plunge. He said the charity is near and dear to him because he is a special education major.

“For people like us, who are fortunate to have athletic participation so easily, it means a lot to help those who require extra accommodations so they can participate and have the same experiences,” Kransberger said.

UW-Eau Claire junior Joel Sweeney, who also took the jump, appreciates the cause.

“It’s exciting to do this,” Sweeney said. “Being here today is special. Giving others the same opportunities we have is really important.”

Sweeney said the time in the water was the worst part of the event but it’s worth it.

“It’s cold for a few seconds,” Sweeney said, “But it’s worth it.”

But not everyone is brave enough to face the water, including Kraus.

“I would rather jump out of a plane than jump in the water,” Kraus said.

Teams and individuals are encouraged to dress up and this year everything from football players in tutus to women in bathing suits and tennis shoes were seen.

Speed can also be a factor. An award is given to the fastest plunge, but those who jumped were all quick to get out of the water and dash back to the heated tents.

Kraus enjoys the reactions of first time plungers more than anything.

“It’s seeing the people who show up and have no idea what to expect and are super scared,” Kraus said, “but end up loving it and coming back.”