COLUMBIA — Clouds and wind didn’t stop the line of polar plungers from braving the cold.
Groups of Columbia residents ran into the icy waters of Stephens Lake on Saturday afternoon to raise money for Special Olympics Missouri in the fourth annual Polar Plunge.
Onlookers, many bundled in blankets or towels, gave their support from the lakeside. The crowd huddling around the lake included both newcomers and veterans.
First-time plungers Amy Wehnes and Chris Offenburger were among the first groups to take the plunge.
“It was cold,” Wehnes said, shivering. “I did it to raise money; it’s for a good cause.”
Offenburger said he heard about the plunge at his high school in Jefferson City: “(My math teacher) said, ‘Do you want to do this?’ and I said ‘Absolutely.’”
Alan Keller, a sophomore at MU, was another first-time plunger.
“At first it sounded like a fun time with friends, but it’s for a really good cause,” Keller said.
Shawna Dunn, a member of a group called the Penguin Plungers, jumped into the lake wearing a penguin suit. She said it was her third year participating in the plunge.
“My cousin competes in the Special Olympics," Dunn said. "That’s why I do it.”
Two of her penguin-suited friends, Connie Kirby and Megan Barnes, said they heard about the plunge through Dunn, and this was their second time.
“It’s freezing — it’s windier this year,” said Alli Inglebeight, another veteran plunger.
Diane Brimer, central area director for Special Olympics Missouri, said the goal was to have 400 people.
“I know there were 400 wristbands we ran out of,” said Jason McClintic, a Columbia police officer and one of the event organizers.
“Last year we had 22 heats, and we’re at 32 heats this year, I think,” Brimer said.
The parking lot next to the lake quickly filled, and traffic was redirected to a Boone Hospital parking lot. Near the lake, tents provided food and a place to change clothes.
As he was leaving, one onlooker said he would be back — next time, in the water.
“I’m going to do it,” Ricky Acton, a Columbia resident, said. "You'll see me out there next year."