Chilly, but not freezing, water temperatures greeted participants Saturday at the Special Olympics Louisiana’s Polar Plunge at Cabela’s in Gonzales.
With a comfortable outside temperature of 70 degrees, the annual “Freezin’ For A Reason” enabled participants to jump off a deck into the Cabela’s pond to raise money for SOLA.
Casey Minton, director of communications and marketing for Special Olympics Louisiana, said around 300 people participated Saturday.
“Polar Plunge is part of a year-round fundraising effort for sports training for disabled athletes,” Minton said. “These fundraisers allow us to fund these programs.”
The event is also in conjunction with the Law Enforcement Torch Run, which features law enforcement carrying the Olympic Torch to the opening ceremonies of the state Special Olympics summer games.
Minton said without law enforcement “this event wouldn’t be possible.”
Bob Escamilla, a detective with the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office, has participated for the last seven years.
“The Polar Plunge gets all the law enforcement agencies together in unity for Special Olympics,” Escamilla said. “Today helps raise awareness, but this is also the athletes’ time to shine.”
Escamilla said the Gonzales Polar Plunge is the largest in the state.
Law enforcement agencies who participated in Saturday’s plunge included the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office, Louisiana State Police, Gonzales Police Department, Baton Rouge Police Department and the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office.
Other plungers were the Ascension Parish council members, St. Amant High School Student Council and local businesses.
Gonzales has hosted the event for the past 10 years.
“We have a lot of repeat sponsors and volunteers which helps a lot,” Minton said.
The event, which also included raffles and jambalaya, cost $50 per person.
Bobby Webre, chief deputy with the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office, jumped three times — once with the Sheriff's Office, another with his Rotary club and again with the Knights of Columbus. And he did in it a tuxedo.
It's all part of the dedication many have for Special Olympics.
A group of six workers, donning green shirts, from the Stine’s store in Walker jumped for the first time.
“We decided this year we will support Special Olympics as a store,” Raelyn McAdams said. “It’s just a great cause and fun.”
Four 911 operators with the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office, “AP Squad 4,” dressed as superheroes for their jump.
The group dressed as superheroes because “we are the behind-the-scenes people,” operator Charlene Gautreau said. “When calls come in, we are the first to help and answer.”
The women were the first to jump in the cold water.
“It was cold, but not nearly as cold as it has been in years past,” Gautreau said.
Five women from New Orleans called “NOLA’s Superheroes” took the plunge “to have fun and raise awareness,” said Ann Matrix.
“This is our first year for the Polar Plunge, and we became involved through a friend who is very involved in the Special Olympics,” Matrix said.
Special Olympics Louisiana is a statewide organization that promotes understanding, acceptance and inclusion of people with and without intellectual disabilities. SOLA offers year-round programs for more than 14,000 children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
According to SOLA, the organization has over 15,000 volunteers. SOLA offers programs for people such as health, education, leadership, training and sports programs.
In 2017, the Louisiana Law Enforcement Torch Run raised over $200,000. Throughout the year, Torch Run officers conduct fundraising activities. The money raised from the Torch Run enables children and adults to participate in Special Olympics.
For more information about Special Olympics Louisiana and the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics, visit www.laso.org.