Polar Plunge (web)

Mr. Popper and the Penguins hammed it up for photos after taking the plunge into Lake Sara during the annual Polar Plunge for Special Olympics.

News Report Staff

It was a beautiful day for a plunge into Lake Sara, even if the weather wasn’t all that polar for penguins or Vikings.

The annual Polar Plunge for Special Olympics on Saturday was blessed with an outdoor temperature as high as 53 degrees. But the water temperature was still frigid, ranging from 44 to 39, depending on the thermometer readings that morning. That combination produced 350 supporters, ranging from young to old, for the splashing fundraiser.

“The turnout is much better on a day like today,” said Vanessa Duncan, a coordinator of the Illinois Law Enforcement Torch Run Polar Plunge for Special Olympics, and veteran plunger herself a couple of years back when a hole had to be cut through a thick layer of ice on the lake. “It’s beautiful out there. And we’re expecting no no-shows due to the weather. People are enjoying themselves by the beach.”

There was a picnic-like atmosphere as the volunteers arrived Saturday. Effingham Junior High School students Grace Clark, Taylor Greene and Emilie Vincent were in their penguin costumes, along with 25 others, including EJHS teachers, for not only hitting the water, but doing a little dance as well.

“They decided on penguins because they dived into water,” Clark explained. She and her fellow plungers also denied with laughter when asked if they had studied the penguins at the St. Louis Zoo, especially by diving in with them. (By the way, that could land you in the St. Louis County Jail.)

They also realized the importance of helping out causes like Special Olympics, which offers competitive sports to people with special needs. Greene knows one of those athletes in her neighborhood, which helps draw many volunteers to take the plunge each year.

“I kinda hang out with her and she goes to my church,” Greene said.

The three seventh graders were dressed in black and white with a touch of orange representing a penguin’s bill. But they had added a feminine flair to their costumes – brightly-colored tutus.

“It was something more for the outfits. Plus, we’re girls and we like tutus.” Vincent said.

The tutus seemed appropriate for the synchronized penguin dance that local teacher Kelsey Baker planned to lead as “Mr. Popper,” a character from the movie “Mr. Popper and his Penguins.” Baker donned a top hat and whistle as part of her plunge costume.

“We’re dancing to Vanilla Ice’s song ‘Ice Baby,’” Baker said as she herded her group near the beach. Part of the penguin platoon arrived in a stretch Hummer.

Though they didn’t arrive by a dragon-headed long ship, Windsor resident Ken Thompson and his fellow Vikings were armed and ready to take on the waters of Lake Sara. From their horned helmets to their furry boots, the group looked all ready to plunder and burn, but they were on good behavior Saturday.

Along with Thompson, the group included Albert, Jason and Heather Trigg, Marilyn Good, Carolyn Patrick, Cheyenne Kennedy and Pam Carter.

Thompson, the patriarch of the clan, has raised money for the Polar Plunge for eight years. His success with the help of family and friends has raised more than $18,000 during that time. His heart has been into the cause from the start with his grandson, Albert, being one of the Special Olympics athletes.

Each year, Albert offers a costume theme for the group for the day of the plunge. They have arrived in pajamas or as super heroes, Star Wars characters and other outfits. The goal for this year’s plunge was not to lose any limbs during the plunge. That is part of the reason they added an unarmed “healer” to their group this year.

“We just keep coming every year,” Thompson said.

The parade of groups featured old folks, baseball players, super heroes, Irish pranksters, law officers, a vintage bather and more. When “Mr. Popper” blew the whistl, the penguins danced and twirled. Then they ran into the water in groups.

The Vikings were shouting and laughing as they waded out to shake hands with the Effingham County Dive Rescue divers in place to ensure everyone got out of the water safely.

The water might have been cold, but the spirit of giving warmed many hearts at Lake Sara.