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Freezing to fundraise

By Staff | Feb 21, 2011

Haley Knudtson

Since residents across the United States already think Minnesotans are crazy for putting up with rather rough winters, it only makes sense for us to embrace the craziness — and do it for a good cause.

For the past 14 years, people have been hurling themselves into frigid lakes and ponds to raise money for Special Olympics Minnesota — whose slogan is “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

The bravest of the brave took part in the Polar Bear Plunge on Saturday, Feb. 12, at Lake Washington, including Blue Earth resident Haley Knudtson.

The 23-year-old has participated in the winter event for the past two years because she’s a big supporter of the Special Olympics and the athletes who compete in it, including a friend of hers that does bowling.

“They can do some pretty remarkable things just as well as anybody else,” Knudtson says.

She admires the positive attitudes that many Special Olympians display and tries to appreciate life as much as she can, so doing the Polar Bear Plunge to benefit a good cause was right up her alley.

To take part in the Plunge, “plungers” are supposed to raise a minimum of $75, an amount that ended up being a mere fraction of what Knudtson came up with. Since she had raised slightly more than $1,000 last year, her goal this time around was to reach at least $1,050.

“I thought I was going to be behind,” Knudtson says.

Instead, she finished ahead — a good thousand dollars ahead.

Knudtson ended up raising $2,072 by collecting donations from family, friends and people at area businesses. And she did it all in just two months, having started her fundraising in December.

Aside from needing to raise at least $75, there are no requirements to being in the Plunge. It’s as simple as getting in and back out, with no condition on how long people have to stay in the water.

“You just jump in and then you get the heck outta there,” Knudtson says.

Since the water was about 6 feet deep where everyone jumped, participants had to swim out, unlike the Plunge that Knudtson did in Rochester last year, where it was shallow enough to walk.

Every safety measure was taken, however, and if someone wouldn’t have been able to get themselves out, dive teams were on hand to assist.

So what kind of feelings does someone have in that first moment their body touches the piercing cold water?

“I want out,” Knudtson puts it simply, adding that it was pretty difficult to breathe while she was in the lake.

Fortunately, it was a quick dip and then it was off to a huge warming tent where plungers changed into something a little less wet and a little more toasty.

“You run straight to that tent, and that’s where your warm clothes are,” Knudtson explains.

She chose to “take the plunge” in shorts and a tie-dye T-shirt, but there was no specific dress code other than the requirement of wearing shoes. Some participants jumped in as little as a Speedo or bikini, while others donned police uniforms, Vikings jerseys and costumes of the infamous Dr. Seuss characters “Thing 1” and “Thing 2.”

Plungers could form teams and jump as a group, but Knudtson braved the cold on her own, creating a one-person team named “Break Out The Courage!”

And courage is definitely something she’s got a lot of, because despite already knowing how chilly the water will be, Knudtson says she intends to continue the Plunge in the years to come.

Fourteen total Plunges will be, or already have been, taking place throughout Minnesota until March 12, and the event at Lake Washington alone attracted more than 400 participants.

It was also able to raise $72,000 for Special Olympics Minnesota — and more than $2,000 of that came from one Blue Earth girl who’s passionate about helping others.