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Jumpers splash crowd, dress up for Polar Plunge to raise money for Special Olympics

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Benjamin Pelton won the belly flop competition at the Polar Plunge in Grand Forks Saturday. "My chest is beet red," Pelton, part of the Grant Forks Air Force Base Honor Guard, said after the the competition. (Becky Jacobs/ Grand Forks Herald)2 / 5
From left to right, UND Police Chief Eric Plummer, Grand Forks Police Chief Mark Nelson, Grand Forks County Sheriff Bob Rost and North Dakota Highway Patrol Colonel Michael Gerhart Jr. judge the Polar Plunge in Grand Forks Saturday. Some of the jumpers' splashes got the judges' shoes wet. (Becky Jacobs/ Grand Forks Herald)3 / 5
Kimberly Spivack watches Cortney Walters splash into a cold pool as Bailey Norgren climbs out. The three work together at Altru Family Birthing Center and participated in the Polar Plunge in Grand Forks Saturday. (Becky Jacobs/ Grand Forks Herald)4 / 5
Kimberly Spivack clutches her purse as she jumps into a cold pool for the Polar Plunge in Grand Forks Saturday. Spivack said she participates Polar Plunge, which raises money for Special Olympics, for her sister, who has Down syndrome. (Becky Jacobs/ Grand Forks Herald)5 / 5

Dozens of brave souls took the plunge into a cold pool of water Saturday in Grand Forks, but the dive was all for a good cause.

People dressed in a variety of costumes, including as characters from "The Wizard of Oz" and viking gear, jumped into a cold pool, splashing spectators and judges outside Choice Fitness in for the Polar Plunge.

"The atmosphere with the spectators and participants was the best I've seen," said Reid Huttunen, director of development at Special Olympics North Dakota.

This was the ninth year for the Polar Plunge in Grand Forks, and 71 participants raised more than $15,000, Huttunen said.

The Polar Plunge, an annual fundraiser organized by North Dakota law enforcement as part of the year-round Law Enforcement Torch Run, raises awareness and funds to benefit Special Olympics North Dakota, which is part of an international nonprofit that provides those with intellectual disabilities fitness and wellness programs.

That's why four prominent members of area law enforcement—UND Police Chief Eric Plummer, Grand Forks Police Chief Mark Nelson, Grand Forks County Sheriff Bob Rost and North Dakota Highway Patrol Col. Michael Gerhart—held scorecards and judged the jumpers for the best costumes and belly flops.

Participants dressed in various costumes and were announced before taking turns jumping into a cold pool of water outdoors. After jumping, each person was wrapped in a warm towel and ushered inside to a heated pool.

Benjamin Pelton of Grand Forks Air Force Base Honor Guard took the top prize for best belly flop.

"My chest is beet red right now," Pelton said after the jump.

Pelton has participated in a Polar Plunge in New York about six times, but this was his first time in Grand Forks.

"I just love helping out the Special Olympics," he said.

Dorothy Sparks, dressed as Dorothy from "The Wizard of Oz," won a prize in the best costume category. Last year, she dressed as a Looney Tunes character, she said.

UND seniors Erin Gilbertson and Shannah Henk wore business attire for their plunge. The two were part of an eight-member team from Alpha Kappa Psi, a business fraternity at UND, that raised the most money for the Plunge—$1,210.

While most of the jumpers said the water was cold, the warm weather in Grand Forks helped with the jump Saturday.

"We got very lucky," said Kimberly Spivack, who's participated in Polar Plunge six times.

She jumped with her coworkers from Altru Family Birthing Center, Bailey Norgren and Cortney Walters. The three dressed as elderly women, with rollers in their hair, a nightgown and slippers.

"First of all, it's fun," Spivack said. "Second of all, it raises money for a good cause."

Meghan Berger was the youngest jumper in the Plunge. The 8-year-old, who has participated in the event since she was 5, attended with her father, Jonathon Berger, who works at the Anne Carlsen Center, which works with people with disabilities and their families, in Grand Forks.

Berger said she chooses to jump—even though it's cold—"because I want to help people."

When all of these jumpers were asked whether they would take the plunge again next year, all of them replied, "Definitely."

Becky Jacobs

Becky Jacobs is the crime and courts reporter for the Herald.

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