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Residents brave polar plunge to raise money for Special Olympics

February 9, 2019

Some dressed as Santa and his elves. Some wore Pink Panther t-shirts, hats, and, yes, tails. Some wore tutus to take the plunge.

And one plunged wearing a clerical collar.

“Of course. I’m a priest,”  said the Rev. Daniel Whelan, who brought several parishioners and their friends to Saturday’s Polar Plunge at the pond in Allen County’s Metea Park.

The event, which benefits Special Olympics, attracted about 150 plungers, about double the number from last year, said Jeff Mohler, president and CEO of Special Olympics Indiana.

The event was expected to bring in about $27,000 for the charity, which is marking 50 years in the state, he said.

Shortly after noon, the air temperature was hovering around 18 degrees when the first group of plungers ran screaming into open water created by an approximately 50-foot hole cut in the ice. Many plungers high-fived firefighters and other rescue personnel at the other side of the hole before turning back.

“It’s very, very, very cold. When you jump in it’s like a shock, and when you’re in the middle you can’t breathe. The worst part is going back,” said Ann Tindall of Fort Wayne, 52, making her first plunge at Metea.

Tindall said she works with adults with disabilities at Anthony Wayne Rehabilitation Center’s workshop in Fort Wayne as a program coordinator.

“I believe so much in the cause,” she said.

Other participating groups included people who work with special education students or young adults. 

Six were teachers and staff members at North Side High School, participating after being urged on by their charges, some of whom donated pennies to determine who plunged and what they would wear.

“The students all voted for whether we would wear bathing suits, football jerseys or wrestling singlets, and bathing suits won. They chose bathing suits,” said David Berg, 56, assistant principal, who admitted he might cheat a bit and wear an athletic tee over his trunks.

Also participating from North Side were special ed teachers Jordyn Rigler and Ashley Reed, both 24; English teacher Amanda DeBaille, 37; North Side treasurer Elizabeth Sherman, 31; and government and economics teacher Matt Mertes, 49. 

Several said they coach inclusive athletic teams at the school and wanted to support their student athletes.

“I think it also teaches you to overcome fear,” Berg said of taking the plunge. “People are afraid to go in the water because it’s cold, but last year it wasn’t too bad.”

Added Mertes: “It’s a good way to build camaraderie among colleagues and another way to support a great cause.”

He was making his first plunge after being cornered by Berg. “I’m sure it’s going to be extraordinarily cold,” Mertes said. 

After plunging, Zach Bradley, 25, who participated with Whelan’s Padre’s Knights, was inclined to agree.

“I thought I was going to pass out,” Bradley said, on the way to changing out of his wet attire.

“It takes your breath away,” team member Patrick Dolan, 16, said. “I didn’t expect that.”

Whelan’s team of parish members from Our Lady of Good Hope Catholic Church in Fort Wayne also included Kate Jones and Andrew Krouse.

 Whelan said he turned 50 on Tuesday and considered this a late birthday celebration.

“I love Special Olympics, and I’m a 4th Degree Knight of Columbus and they always support Special Olympics,” he said.

“And everybody at Our Lady knows I like to do crazy things and have fun with the kids. I’m just so glad people could come together and do it.”

rsalter@jg.net