ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — More than a thousand people in Alaska 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 Saturday at Goose Lake in Anchorage, where ice was cut from 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 took part with others from LifeMed Alaska, an air ambulance service.
"It's for a great cause," he said of why he spent his 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.
The fundraiser brought in more than $300,000. It's the eighth year for the event, which Special Olympics Alaska president Jim Balamaci said has raised a total of over $2 million. About 5,000 people have taken the plunge since the first event, and more than 50,000 people have donated, 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.