Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013 | 6:15 p.m.
More than 150 people stood around the edges of the South Point pool on Saturday afternoon, bracing for the Polar Bear Plunge.
Some wore their swimwear, while others came in costume for the annual event to raise money for Special Olympics Nevada. This year, there was a man in pink tights and a lime-green dress, a family dressed as characters from Toy Story, a group of 1980s glam-rockers, and a Poseidon with his sea creatures, to name a few.
Although the weather would not have been ideal for a polar bear, at 61 degrees and sunny, the water was ice-cold. Over the loudspeaker, Special Olympics Nevada Regional Vice President Maggie Schwarz counted down from 10. Many participants fidgeted, anticipating the jump.
“… 5 … 4 … 3-2-1, go!” Schwarz said, speeding up the countdown.
Like that, the group jumped into the pool. The brave lingered in the water for a few minutes, but most darted out and into the warmth of their towels.
“It was a bit nippy,” said Reed Goldberg, who had jumped in a Tinker Bell outfit and was wrapped in a towel.
Schwarz said the event was on pace to raise $45,000. Each participant must raise at least $125 for the right to jump into the cold water. They also raised money in a donation raffle with prizes that included bottles of wine, a baseball signed by Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper and Las Vegas Wranglers tickets.
The money provides funding for Special Olympic athletes to participate at no cost. The fundraiser allows children such as Adriane Mills' daughter, Hannah Schieferstein, to compete in sports.
Mills said the program has been instrumental for her daughter, who is on the autistic spectrum, had no interest in sports and struggled to come out of her shell socially. That’s all changed since she began competing in swimming and bowling three years ago. Now she may even try out for her high school swim team.
“It’s wonderful,” Mills said. “For a large majority of the athletes, this is how they get involved in the community, practice their social skills and meet friends.”
This is the fourth year of the fundraiser, and each year it has grown in popularity and creativity, Schwarz said.
Jamie McNulty came with 10 friends, who all dressed up as the “Cool Cats,” a fictional '80s glam-rock band; last year, they went as superheroes. They raised $2,350 this year.
McNulty said the cause motivated them to participate. Plus, “you gotta go with any excuse to dress up.”
Goldberg and his group of friends made a contest of the fundraising. They each raised money against another person; whoever ended up with the most money raised against them had to jump in an embarrassing costume.
Goldberg lost, but he was hardly upset.
“I was excited,” Goldberg said. “I was egging everybody on. It’s my role as Tinker Bell to motivate everyone.”
After the jump, everyone warmed up under the sun. Many participants had already begun discussing costumes for next year. Schwarz said the organization raises more money in other fundraisers, but none of those tops the creativity of the Polar Bear Plunge.
“This is not our biggest fundraiser,” Schwarz said. “But it is the most interesting.”