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Decatur Polar Plunge raises more than $72K for Special Olympics

Herald & Review - 3/3/2024

Mar. 2—DECATUR — Grant Noland celebrated his 40th birthday on Saturday "freezin' for a reason" at the Polar Plunge.

He recruited three friends, their wives and all 10 kids they have among them, and said he hadn't told them what they were going to do until Friday.

"Why would you not?" he said. "Our wives and kids are here, too, and we're excited. Nobody in the group has done this before."

He hopes it becomes a tradition and that the kids will continue participating as they grow up, he said.

However, unlike a lot of years, Saturday's weather was comparatively mild, with a high of 61 and sunny skies. The water at the beach in front of The Beach House Restaurant was a balmy 44 degrees, according to Sheriff Jim Root, who made this announcement with a big smile at the beginning of the event.

The annual Polar Plunge raises a significant amount for Special Olympics Illinois each year, and this year, said Region I Assistant Director Vanessa Duncan, the total raised locally was more than $72,000, and statewide, more than $2 million. Region I serves 1,362 Special Olympians, who never have to pay entry fees or buy their own equipment to participate.

Longtime plunger Tim Spinner was this year's "Honorary Plunger," the person chosen to be the first one to plunge. Known as "Speedo Fro" for his usual attire for the event — a Speedo and a black fright wig — Spinner showed up this year in a suit and a pork pie hat.

"I thought I should class it up," he said, with a telltale twinkle in his eye, and sure enough, when it was time for him to kick things off, he said, "Close your eyes, ladies" and removed shirt, suit and tie to reveal the Speedo and donned the fright wig before going into the water.

Funny costumes are the order of the day at Polar Plunge, and Max and Taunia Rentfrow chose to dress as leprechauns for their plunge. Usually they're accompanied by granddaughter Emma Six, 9, who has spina bifida and competes in Special Olympics, but Emma had an out-of-town wheelchair basketball tournament to play in this year. The family hopes to get Emma lined up to be the Honorary Plunger next year.

"We do it for her," Max Rentfrow said. "They do a lot for the community."

A large group participated for the Decatur Park District in honor of the number of programs offered for special needs residents, said Grace Raleigh, who said the group of more than 50 plungers raised $12,500.

"We have a program called Heart and Soul in Motion where they can act, and they can sing, and we have so many great facilities for that," she said. "We're out here having a good time."

One of the top fundraisers this year was Courtney Lindsey, who has plunged for 23 years and raised $13,700. She gives a lot of credit for that to her father's American Legion chapter in Florida, where he is retired, and to family and friends who pitched in from Arizona as well. Her dad used to plunge with her until he moved to Florida, she said.

"I enjoy doing it for the cause of it," she said. "I think it's an amazing cause for these adults and children. I can get out in that water for 30 seconds and freeze, and get out and get warm, and they're dealing with handicaps for the rest of their life. I think they're amazing people. This community is wonderful. It's a giving community."


Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter


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