MINOOKA — Their toes might have been cold, but their acts were heart-warming, as 18 members of the Advanced Yearbook Team at Minooka Community High School took the plunge in freezing Lake Michigan waters last weekend to raise money for a good cause.
The Law Enforcement Torch Run Polar Plunge was held Saturday at North Beach on the Northwestern University campus to benefit Special Olympics Illinois. It was a very cold day, with even colder wind chills, but the students who braved the elements said it was worth it to benefit Special Olymics.
“It was for a good cause,” Abby Davis said. “It was just going into some cold water for a minute. It was nothing compared to what they go through.”
Abby was Team Minooka Zoo’s top fundraiser for the challenge, coming in with $528.15. They named themselves “zoo,” their teacher Laura Erion said, because the yearbook room can seem a bit like a zoo at times.
Abby her mother teamed up to raise the funds. Minooka Zoo was the third top fundraiser of the 26 polar teams there that day.
“It was kind of scary,” Abby said of actually having to run in to the frigid waters. “It was cold. I couldn’t feel my feet for about 45 minutes.”
The whole polar plunge fundraising project was fellow student Colleen Lewis’s idea.
“My uncle has done it every year for a while now,” she said. “I always thought he was crazy.”
But when she was brainstorming fundraising ideas, Colleen realized what a good opportunity the project would be for the yearbook class. She brought it up to the group, and they literally ran with it, but Colleen, herself, was on a different team — Team Hawks — for the plunge.
It was a long, cold day, she said. She got up at three in the morning and arrived at the lake at seven. The plunge was at eight.
Taking pictures for the publicity took quite a while, she said, but she was only in the water for about three minutes.
"When you get in," she said, "you're only cold for a couple of seconds, then you just go numb."
Holli Kirsch said it was mostly her upper body that was cold, perhaps due to the wind chill. Her feet just went numb, she said.
“For me, I was really pumped up about it,” she said, “and when I got in there, I just thought, ‘Wow. It is really cold.’ My feet felt like bricks. I felt like I couldn’t move.”
Holli said the cause was personal for her, as her twin sister has a disability. Her father, the Will County sheriff, had done the plunge several times in the past, and Holli said he passed the torch to her this year.
“I am so proud of them,” Advanced Yearbook Team sponsor and MCHS English teacher Laura Erion said. “It was for such a good cause, and I think it teaches them something they might not learn in a classroom. It goes far beyond the books and the tests they do in school.”
Erion also went in the lake that day, freezing right alongside her students.
“It was cold and windy, and it was snowing,” she said. “It was in the 20s or 30s. ... There was so much excitement, though, you didn’t really realize just how cold it was until you got out and your feet were numb.”
The team was bundled up on their torsos, but most wore shorts and tennis shoes into the water. They then ran to a warming tent to change into dry clothes and shoes. It was great for team bonding, she said, and to raise money for the Special Olympics.
“I think it was a cool idea that they all wanted to do it,” she said.
The team is planning on making this an annual fundraiser and even inviting alumni back each year.
The other students who took the Polar Plunge for the team were Stephanie Bateman, Jessica Vicini, Danielle Musgrave, Amanda Burdick, Ms. Sabrina Dubik (English teacher), Holly Garrett, Hannah Larsen, Jessica Pratl, Mallory Maticic, Alyssa Spina, Michelle Collett, Taylor Troutman, Taylor Delius, Natalie Lerch, Nicole Johnson, Kate Lanagan, and Kristina Mulcahy. Claire Campbell also raised money but was not able to attend the plunge.
Top fundraisers from Minooka High School for the Polar Plunge were:
• Colleen Lewis — $1,045.54
• Abby Davis — $528.15
• Danielle Musgrave — $524.84
• Holly Kirsch — $520.00
• Jessica Pratl — $403.48
• Jessica Vicini — $307.31