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Annual Polar Bear Plunge held in unseasonably warm weather

Tuesday, February 21, 2012 | 5:39 p.m. CST; updated 1:45 p.m. CST, Wednesday, February 20, 2013

*Update: The total amount raised by the event has been added.

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COLUMBIA — Once a year, people of Columbia convene under a cornucopia of color and costume for a singular purpose, the Polar Bear Plunge at Stephens Lake Park.

This year was different. The usually frigid, swirling air and ice-covered water were something to be discussed in the past tense, as the high temperature for Saturday afternoon was in the 40s.

But the 39-degree water still brought shrill yelps of excitement as 430 participants splashed in. By the time the waters calmed, the event had raised more than $72,000 for Special Olympics Missouri. The event brought in $97,800 overall, according to a Feb. 20 press release from the organization.

That is one of the reasons Bob Burgio got into the Plunge in the first place. He has been a Plunge participant since 2005.

"It’s really cool, really fun, to raise money to help out the Special Olympics, help out people in need," Burgio said.

Still, the ice-cold water is enough to make Burgio and his co-workers at the Missouri State Highway Patrol crime lab in Jefferson City question their participation.

"Every year, we're always like, 'Why do we keep doing this?'" Burgio said. "It's something we enjoy doing, though, in trying to just be goofy and have a good time."

The goofiness of the plunge offers a distraction from everyday life for Burgio and his co-workers. Their team is called CSI: Treasure Trolls.

"I usually don’t dress up like a troll or in costume, so it's kind of nice," Burgio said. "We are all kind of goofy, so we all like dressing up, coming up with different ideas every year, outdoing the previous year costume ideas."

Burgio described the Plunge as a unique experience — something that can't be prepared for. "Done it a lot of times now, still haven't gotten used to it," he said. "It takes your breathe away; you can't focus."

Although Burgio left the water saying, "Oh man, oh man, oh man," in an almost incoherent fashion, Burgio had new sentiments about this year’s Plunge.

"It was good," he said. "It didn't feel too bad, and I really feel kind of good right now — kind of feel invigorated."

The event continues to raise money for Special Olympics Missouri through online donations at www.somo.org/plunge.

Missourian reporter Meghan Eldridge contributed to this report.


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