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Duluth Polar Plunge makes a splash for Special Olympics

This year's event exceeded its fundraising goals by raising $161,600, with more money and more participants than in 2022.

people in costume jumping in cold water
Angeline Moore, of Superior, and Jeana Shykes, of Duluth, dressed as The Golden Girls, react to the cold water during the Special Olympics Polar Plunge at the end of Park Point on Saturday in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — Special Olympics Minnesota celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Polar Plunge with the help of 623 participants jumping into frozen Lake Superior at Park Point on Saturday. This year also marks a half-century of philanthropy for Special Olympics Minnesota.

Skies were mostly sunny with an air temperature of 38 degrees and a 6-mph breeze, according to the National Weather Service.

The Duluth event exceeded its fundraising goal of $145,000 by raising a cool $161,600 to support year-round athletic and health-based services for thousands of athletes with intellectual disabilities across the state.

The Duluth Plunge has raised over $2,558,554 in its 21-year history. In 2022, there were 575 plungers who raised $136,731.

A lit torch during a Special Olympics ceremony at a polar plunge event
Ahead of the Duluth Polar Bear Plunge on Saturday, Special Olympics Minnesota held a torch ceremony.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

The event is sponsored each year by Law Enforcement Torch Run as a fundraiser for Special Olympics. Members of the Duluth Police Department participated and volunteered again in the annual Duluth Polar Plunge.

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This year, Duluth Police Officer Jeremy O’Connor took the plunge for the first time, but didn't go it alone. O'Connor had the company of a life-sized stuffed version of his partner, a black lab named K9 Kallie, to jump with him.

Duluth Police Officer with a replica of his K9 partner
Holding a life-sized replica of his partner, K9 Kallie, Duluth Police Officer Jeremy O’Connor gives a thumbs up ahead of his jump in the Duluth Polar Bear Plunge in Superior Bay Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023. The Polar Bear Plunge mascot can be seen in the background.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

“Fundraising for the Minnesota Special Olympics means a lot to me and being a role model to the athletes is rewarding,” said O’Connor in a press release. "I have volunteered at the plunge the last five years so I am excited to give this a go."

The News Tribune caught up with O'Connor after he took the plunge in 30-degree water.

"I know the weather is nice but the water is not as cold as I thought," O'Connor said. "So $3,300 is what I raised, which is fantastic. ... I've gone to the events that athletes participated in — bowling, track and field, other events, and they just have such a great time and enjoy themselves. It's the perfect thing to fundraise money for. I'd love to do it in the future."

American country singer and former police officer from New Mexico, Frank Ray, also made an appearance at the pre-plunge party at Grandma’s Sports Garden in Canal Park prior to taking the plunge with O’Connor and Investigator Ryan Temple.

Four people get ready to enter the water during a polar plunge.
Framed by the walls of an inflatable tunnel, four people prepare to enter the water of Superior Bay during the Duluth Polar Bear Plunge on Saturday.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Many plungers wore costumes as they took a dip in the icy waters. Angeline Moore, of Superior, and Jeana Shykes, of Duluth, dressed as The Golden Girls. Moore took with her a fantasy football trophy that she won while playing against her boyfriend.

"So I play fantasy football with my boyfriend. I was at his house when we first got together, but they need another person so I joined. I made the playoffs and I won against him. He won against me one time last year and would not let me touch the trophy, so I’ll bring it with me obnoxiously to places,” Moore said.

One man leaping into the air and another man leaning into the water during a polar plunge
Clayton Alborn, of Silver Bay, leaps into the air while Dan Cahill Mathews, of Finland, is about the enter the water of Superior Bay during the Duluth Polar Bear Plunge Saturday.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Duluthian Sherman Frederick plunged with others to represent NorthStar Ford. “I’ve actually got a partner whose aunt used to participate in the Special Olympics, so it's kind of nice to help support her and her family and raise money for good cause,” Frederick said.

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Dressed as a polar bear, Melisa “GG” Scott, from Denison, Texas, joined to volunteer at the Duluth Polar Plunge with a group from the Grand Marais hospital.

“Oh my goodness. Growing up in north Texas, water doesn’t freeze unless it’s in your freezer, so the first time I saw a frozen lake I couldn’t believe that it would be strong enough for a human to be on there, much less people, groups and vehicles. I had no idea. This is my first time being on the water on the frozen lake and it was amazing. I felt alive. I felt exhilarated. It was just such a cool feeling," Scott said.

The event mascot said she had a blast hugging participants and giving out high-fives. When asked if she would take the plunge next time around, Scott said, "Probably not. I’ll wear the chicken hat if I must."

This story originally misstated the amount that Duluth Police Officer Jeremy O’Connor raised — $3,300. It was updated at 12:25 p.m. Feb. 19 with the proper amount. The News Tribune regrets the error.

Three people with inflatable guitars participating in a polar plunge
Holding inflatable guitars, a trio prepare to enter the water of Superior Bay during the Duluth Polar Bear Plunge on Saturday.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune
Two police officers soaked and walking away after a polar plunge
Soaked after making his leap in the Duluth Polar Plunge, Duluth Police Officer Jeremy O’Connor, left, carries a life-sized replica of his partner, K9 Kallie, and heads toward the warming tent on Saturday.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune
Three people leaping into the air during a polar plunge
Mike Becker, of Little Falls, left, his daughter Isabel Becker, of Little Falls, center, and brother-in-law Mike Kittock, of St. Paul, leap into the air before entering the water of Superior Bay during the Duluth Polar Bear Plunge Saturday.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune
People gathered for a polar plunge event
Water can be seen shaken from a person who jumped in the Duluth Polar Bear Plunge Saturday as they run toward the warming tent after their plunge into Superior Bay.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune
Two women leap into the air during a polar plunge
Heidi Stang, left, and Kendall Jarboe leap into the air before entering the water of Superior Bay during their leap in the Duluth Polar Bear Plunge Saturday. Stang is a television producer and Jarboe is a television anchor/reporter for Northern News Now.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune
A woman stands while a dog rests in her coat
Katrina Lund, of Duluth, and Miley the dog take a break from watching the Duluth Polar Bear Plunge Saturday.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune
People playing outdoors on ice
Spectators take a break and play on the ice of Superior Bay during the Duluth Polar Bear Plunge Saturday.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune
Four people leap into the water during a polar plunge
A group of four enters the water of Superior Bay during the Duluth Polar Bear Plunge Saturday.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune
people in costume jumping in cold water
Angeline Moore, of Superior, and Jeana Shykes, of Duluth, dressed as The Golden Girls jump into the water during the Special Olympics Polar Plunge at the end of Park Point on Saturday in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
people jumping in cold water
Miranda Dahl of Duluth reacts to the cold water of the harbor while participating during the Special Olympics Polar Plunge at the end of Park Point on Saturday in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
demogorgon
A participant dressed as a demogorgon from the television show “Stranger Things” walks to the open water during the Special Olympics Polar Plunge at the end of Park Point on Saturday in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
woman pushing two tricycles
Wanmei Guan of Duluth pushes her kids Grace Guan, 4, left, and Beena Guan, 2, on tricycles on the ice during the Special Olympics Polar Plunge at the end of Park Point on Saturday in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
people using smartphones to capture images
People use smartphones to capture people jumping in the water at the end of Park Point during the Special Olympics Polar Plunge on Saturday in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
people in costume jumping in cold water
A person dressed as Vecna from the television show “Stranger Things” reacts to the cold water during the Special Olympics Polar Plunge at the end of Park Point on Saturday in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
people in costume jumping in cold water
A participant dressed as a demogorgon from the television show “Stranger Things” reacts to the cold water during the Special Olympics Polar Plunge at the end of Park Point on Saturday in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
Man hidden behind a splash as he enters the water during a polar plunge.
Hidden behind a splash, Clayton Alborn, of Silver Bay, prepares to emerge from underwater in Superior Bay during his leap in the Duluth Polar Bear Plunge Saturday.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Brielle Bredsten is the business reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.

She earned a bachelor's degree in Professional Writing & Technical Communication, with minors in Advertising and Creative Writing from Metropolitan State University, in addition to a two-year professional paid internship as reporter/editor of the student newspaper.

She is an award-winning professional writer, photographer and editor based in rural Minnesota. Over the past decade, Brielle Bredsten has contributed more than 1,000 articles, feature stories, non-profit press-releases, photographs and columns. Her work has been published in several community newspapers.

Send her story tips, feedback or just say hi at bbredsten@duluthnews.com.
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