ANCHORAGE, Alaska – More than a thousand people in Alaska on Saturday dressed up as elves or in other elaborate costumes while some stripped down to barely anything to take part in a polar plunge.
The fundraiser for Special Olympics Alaska took place at Goose Lake in Anchorage, where ice had been cut out of a large portion of the lake to allow the plungers room to do their favorite dive, like a cannonball. Other more timid plungers stepped into the frigid water, and others got a helping hand from fellow jumpers.
"It's cold," said David Aromin, a recent transplant from Philadelphia who was taking part with others from LifeMed Alaska, an air ambulance service.
"It's for a great cause," he said of why he spent his Saturday morning jumping into 32-degree water. "I'm new to Alaska, and this is one way to be baptized."
Kat Bant of New York and Brittany Petrikos of Ohio said despite the frigid conditions, the jump "was lots of fun."
Much like Aromin, neither Bant nor Petrikos are from Alaska and yearn for signature experiences of the nation's northernmost state.
"We're not from here, so we wanted to do the Alaskan experience, and this is just a part of it," Petrikos said.
More than $300,000 was raised during the annual fundraiser. It's the eighth year for the event, which Special Olympics Alaska president Jim Balamaci said has raised over $2 million in that time. There have been 5,000 people who have taken the plunge since the first event, and more than 50,000 donors, he said.
"People with intellectual disabilities sometimes are the most underserved, and when you have a thousand athletes coming out on one of the shortest days of the year, in the middle of winter, to jump into 32 degrees, to say, 'You know what? We're going to unite our communities, we're going to accept everybody, and we're going to do this all together,' it just warms my heart," Balamaci said.