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‘Polar Plunge’ enthusiasts defy frigid temps to raise funds for Special Olympics

Four-year-old Preston Arndt jumps into the arms of his dad Michael Arndt at the Polar Plunge fundraiser for Special Olympics Saturday at Choice Health and Fitness in Grand Forks.JOHN STENNES/GRAND FORKS HERALD1 / 3
Chris Horton belly flops into the pool at the Special Olympics Polar Plunge fundraiser Saturday.JOHN STENNES/GRAND FORKS HERALD2 / 3
Dr. William Haug Jr. leaps spread eagle into the water At the Grand Forks Special Olympics Polar Plunge fundraiser Saturday at Choice Health and Fitness in Grand Forks.JOHN STENNES/GRAND FORKS HERALD3 / 3

“It was cold, but it wasn’t that bad,” said Michael Arndt after he and his son emerged from the tank.

“Cold” was all Preston said from inside a large towel his dad had wrapped him in.

He was the youngest of 105 hardy souls who braved mid-teen temperatures to take part in the event, according to Kathleen Meagher, president and chief executive officer for Special Olympics North Dakota. The oldest was 64.

The father-son team from Larimore, N.D., who were “plunging” for the first time, raised $150 for Special Olympics, said Arndt, a trooper with the North Dakota Highway Patrol.

About half of the plungers were first-timers, Meagher said. “A lot of plungers come back ... They see it as an ‘extreme sport.’”

The organization sponsors programs for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.     

Dr. William Haug, Jr., of Grand Forks, was jumping for his son, Sam, 6, who has Down syndrome, he said. He raised $200 for this, his second plunge.

Audrey Tramp, a rehabilitation nurse at Altru Health System, said she jumped for her great-grandfather who lives in Washington.  

“It was cold but it wasn’t as bad as it looks,” she said. She raised $50 for the cause.  

Kayla Goerke of Monticello, Minn., took the plunge for the first time, she said. She would do it again, “yes, for sure.”     

“It’s fun to see what we’d come up with for a costume. And it’s a good cause.”

Dressed head to foot in yellow, resembling a duck, her teammate Kindra Bloms, Grand Forks, jumped for the fourth time, she said. “I like to dress up in something stupid.”

Both women said the event was “for a good cause.” 

Chris Horton and Dawid (NOTE: “Dawid” IS CORRECT SP) Mludzik, who are stationed at the Grand Forks Air Force Base, joined teammates who work at the Anne Carlsen Center in Grand Forks to raise nearly $3200, Horton said.

Horton did a belly flop that “knocked the breath out me; I enjoy it thoroughly.”  

Although he was “skeptical” about it at first, Mludzik said, “I loved it. It was a rush. It was a great time for a great cause.”   

Miss Grand Cities Drew Trahns took her first plunge at a Clear Lake last year, she said. In her role, she meets “so many great people in Special Olympics,” and she’s been involved with teaching kids with special needs “how to better express themselves through dancing and the arts.”  

She and her teammate Kayla Stahlecker of Crookston, Minn., raised $200.

East Grand Forks Police Chief Mike Hedlund jumped twice in succession because, in his first jump, he forgot to turn on an underwater camera he’d agreed to wear for WDAZ-TV.

He raised almost $800 with the support of friends and colleagues, he said.

Law enforcement personnel play an important part in Special Olympic initiatives, Meagher said. More than 300 law enforcement workers statewide “step up to serve in critical volunteer roles” for the organization.        

Meagher estimated that, which sponsors and plungers, more than $45,000 was raised for Special Olympics North Dakota.

As an individual, Mike Peterson of Grand Forks raised the most funds, more than $4,000, she said. Peterson is a member of the event’s volunteer committee.

The team that raised the most funds was Polar Bear Explorers, a youth group associated with the U.S. Border Patrol, with $6,400, she said.      

The Grand Forks event raises the most money and involves the largest number of people who take the plunge of any such event in North Dakota, she said. This is the sixth year it was held in Grand Forks.   

The support of people and businesses in this community “is incredible,” Meagher said. Businesses such as Scheels, United Parcel Service and EAPC had teams participating.   

The first Polar Plunge was held nine years ago in Jamestown, followed by Grand Forks, she said. It’s also held in Fargo, Dickinson and Minot.

People may wonder “why anybody would do this,” Meagher said. “It’s kind of exhilarating.”