Participants at the Polar Plunge braved the waters of Lake Champlain to raise money for the Special Olympics.
PLATTSBURGH — Matt Thomson stood in the sand at the Plattsburgh City Beach wearing only shorts, a lit torch in hand.
The frigid air turned his skin red and he knew the water was even colder, but he was going in, and would even be among the first to take a dip as the torch bearer for the Polar Plunge. The event was held to raise money for the Special Olympics, and Thomson is an athlete.
“I like being the torch bearer,” he said.
And when the crowd took off, Thomson ran with them, some screaming, a few diving in the 52-degree water, others conducting a hurried loop and racing desperately back toward the beach.
As of the morning of the event, the more than 200 signed up had raised more than $23,500 for the third annual Plattsburgh Polar Plunge for Special Olympics New York.
“The impact their efforts will have on Special Olympics athletes will last a lifetime,” said Erin McCartan, Development Specialist for Special Olympics New York.
Last year’s event raised more than $42,000, with roughly 350 people sprinting into chilly Lake Champlain as friends, family and supporters watched from the shore.
Sponsors of the event included Ambit Energy, Eagle 97.5, FOP Lodge 999, Olive Ridley’s, Plattsburgh Distributing, Taylor Rental & Party Plus of Plattsburgh and Saranac Lake, Pepsi Beverages Company, Dunkin Donuts, KFC and A&W.
A team of Ambit Energy consultants were the top income earners, raising more than $7,000. The team raised more than $9,700 the year before.
Team Captain Pam Ryan helped form a team and started participating three years ago. She had an aunt with Down Syndrome who died at age 13 and said she feels blessed to be part of the event.
Ambit team member Tricia McCartney has taught special education for 29 years and supports the Special Olympics.
“It is amazing to see the smiles on the athletes’ faces.”
Special Olympics is the largest amateur sports organization in the world. With 51,809 athletes, Special Olympics New York is the largest chapter in North America and the sixth largest chapter in the world.
Special Olympics New York athletes train and compete year-roud in 22 sports, the Young Athletes Program and the Motor Activities Training Program, at no cost to athletes, their families or caregivers.
“We raise $1 million for athletes,” McCartan said. “This is probably the most rewarding job I could have asked for.”
Prior to the plunge, those gathered danced and worked out to Zumba, enjoying food and refreshments and participating in a costume contest.
Divers and paramedics stood by as participants raced into the water at noon, making their way back to the beach, red and shivering.
“We raised close to $2,000,” said Mark Thomson, whose son Matt was the torch bearer.
Matt plays basketball for the Special Olympics.
“I went to the state games,” he said. “It was fun.”