published Monday, February 17th, 2014

Chattanooga area plungers brave chilly water to benefit Special Olympics

Randall Johnson takes to the water with a body board, as the Chattanooga Rugby Football Club makes their way into Dallas Bay for the Polar Plunge at Chester Frost Park on Sunday. The CRFC hosted the event to benefit the Special Olympics.
Randall Johnson takes to the water with a body board, as the Chattanooga Rugby Football Club makes their way into Dallas Bay for the Polar Plunge at Chester Frost Park on Sunday. The CRFC hosted the event to benefit the Special Olympics.
Photo by C. B. Schmelter /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The warmest temperatures of the month did little to heat the water at Dallas Bay, but a bold group of swimmers got “Freezin’ for a reason” Sunday afternoon.

With the last remnants of snow disappearing from the ground at Chester Frost Park and a firm breeze blowing off the water, a crowd of close to 100 gathered for Chattanooga’s second annual Polar Plunge to benefit Special Olympics in Tennessee.

Participants of all ages took the plunge, others cheered safely from the shore and all smiled as the local rendition of the state’s largest Special Olympics fundraiser brought in an estimated $10,000.

Polar Plunge is a nationwide event, and that’s where plunger Danette Scudder found her inspiration to brave waters still warming from last week’s snowfall.

“I have a friend in Vermont that does it and it was 16 degrees and they had to break a whole in the ice for him to do it,” Scudder said while drying herself with a heated towel following her dip, “so I feel like this is pretty balmy.”

Temperatures hovered near freezing for the event in 2013, so by comparison Sunday’s 60 degrees was balmy indeed.

“We got remarkably luck with this weather,” said Mark Hopkins, an organizer of the event. “The water is still freezing, but at least we don’t have to worry about people dying of hypothermia when they get out.”

Hopkins and Mike Robb of the Chattanooga Rugby Football Club coordinate the event and hope to grow it to rival Polar Plunges in Nashville and Memphis, where local celebrities participate and competition between companies and organizations to raise money fuels significant donations to Special Olympics.

“Those are all things I hope Chattanooga will embrace in one way or another,” Hopkins said. “I’d love to have (UTC football coach) Ross Huesman out here. I tried to get Andy Berke out here last year. He wrote me a $250 check instead of having to jump in. And the blackmail aspect, I’m not beyond that either.”

Tennessee Region 4 Special Olympics director Judy Rogers handed out T-shirts Sunday and lauded the rugby club for its initiative in bringing the event to Chattanooga.

“It means a great deal because all of our money comes through donations and fundraisers like this,” Rogers said. “So I just appreciate so much the Chattanooga Rugby Club wanting to do something like this because that’s how we get our money.”

Though a precise water temperature was unavailable, cousins Cede Warwick, 12, and Sarah Moore, 10, rated the chilliness of the water for their first Polar Plunge as a 7 or 7.5 with 10 as the maximum.

“It was fun,” Warwick said. “But I knew that we were helping people who needed it.”

“And also,” Moore added, “it was just fun because we were jumping into freezing cold water.”

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