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Cold comfort: Polar Plunge participants raise $85,000 for Special Olympics

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By Emile Hallez

A dip in the icy waters of Chatfield Reservoir on Dec. 5 turned out to be a very hot fund-raiser for Special Olympics.

The second annual Polar Plunge, a Law Enforcement Torch Run event, benefited Special Olympics Colorado by raising at least $85,000. The 305 participants, many of whom sported festive wigs and holiday outfits, brought in pledges for swimming out to a sign, touching it and getting out of the 34-degree-Fahrenheit water as quickly as humanly possible.

“It wasn’t cold,” said Don Delorme, who made the trip from Buena Vista to slip on a polka-dot dress and fuzzy pink slippers before sprinting into the frigid water. “It was freezing.”

Delorme’s buddy, retired State Patrol trooper Sam Trujillo, expected the water to be colder.

“It was cold. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be,” said Sam, who wore a modest pink dress and sunglasses. The duo stood shivering after their plunge, with drenched outfits clinging to their skin, as passers-by stopped to take their picture.

Despite air temperatures hovering just above 30 degrees, few seemed discouraged.

“I think it’s actually helping us out,” said Sarah Traut, a Law Enforcement Torch Run manager. “The cold weather just adds to the event. … It’s what the Polar Plunge is all about.”

Traut may be right. This year’s event drew 100 more participants and raised about $30,000 more than the inaugural Polar Plunge in 2008.

“We added a group that’s called the Chicken Coop,” she said. People eager to raise money for Special Olympics but less enthusiastic about the water paid for the right to don chicken suits and perform the apropos Chicken Dance midway through the event.

Members of the Littleton Fire Rescue dive team maintained a watchful presence in the reservoir, wearing dry suits and wading about 10 yards out from the shore.

“We’re just making sure everything stays safe out here,” said Tim Woodward, captain of the dive team.

In spite of the water’s temperature, hypothermia was not much of a risk, Woodward said.

“They’re just not in that long,” he said.

The human Popsicles were probably prone to more common injuries, he said.

“Somebody could slip and fall. … Both (years) it’s gone off without a hitch.”

Though participants were excited about taking the plunge, most were ready to quickly find dry clothes afterward.

“It was great,” said Paula Purdy as she raced toward the changing tent. “It was awesome.”