Plunge for a purpose: People brave cold High Rock Lake water to raise money for Special Olympics

Published 6:25 pm Saturday, March 5, 2022

SALISBURY — Warm sunlight shined down, but the water was still a chilly 55 degrees as dozens of people dashed into High Rock Lake on Saturday afternoon.

Some wore swimsuits. Others had on plain clothes. The most eccentric individuals dressed up in costumes. No matter what they had on, everybody was in the water to support a good cause.

Rowan County Special Olympics teamed up with the Salisbury Elks Lodge and Civitan Club of Salisbury to host its annual Polar Plunge. The event has occurred every year since 2014 and is the organization’s largest fundraiser. All money collected helps support Special Olympics programming for an entire calendar year.

To much applause, Special Olympics Rowan County coordinator Edward Hailey announced the plunge raised $11,010, well over the $7,000 target and the most in the history of the event. Money came through raffle ticket sales, apparel purchases and direct donations. People also paid to plunge.

“It’s fantastic,” Hailey said. “After the last couple years and having to be virtual, we’re back at it in record fashion.”

The polar plunge was held virtually in 2021 due to COVID-19. Participants tried to find cold water, whether it was a bucket or a river, and film themselves getting soaked. For Patty Lefevers, immediate past president of the Civitan Club of Salisbury, it meant dressing up like a penguin and hopping into the pool at Rufty-Holmes Senior Center.

Lefevers traded in her flippers for clown shoes this year. She wasn’t alone when she waded into High Rock Lake on Saturday afternoon. Taking the plunge next to her in an equally colorful costume and makeup was Aleta “Lee” Wagoner, current president of the club.

Splashing into the cold current is a duty that comes with the office, Wagoner said. Not a fan of lake water, Wagoner jokes it’s the reason why she avoided the presidency in the past. But her real smile matched her clown grin as she dried off after making the plunge on Saturday.

Preceding her out of the water was Debbie Martin with the Salisbury Elks Lodge, a veteran plunger who helps organize a team of Elks to participate each year. The Salisbury Elks Lodge took home two trophies on Saturday — one for raising the most money and another for having the most participants. Following close behind in money raised was the Civitans. First Baptist Access Club had the second-most jumpers. North Davidson High School was the educational institution that raised the most money and had the most participants.

The polar plunge was first held at Lake Corriher Wilderness Park. Then, it was organized largely by Jay Taylor with Rowan-Cabarrus Community College’s Skills, Opportunity, Awareness, Readiness program. The S.O.A.R. program helps individuals with intellectual disabilities become more independent and self-directing by helping them acquire basic literacy and life skills. S.O.A.R. is still very involved in the Polar Plunge. This year, the organization raised the second-most money of any educational institute.

The venue isn’t the only way the event has changed since 2014. During the inaugural Polar Plunge, fewer than a dozen people braved the water. On Saturday, 35 participants took the plunge.

“It’s grown tremendously,” said Nancy Robbins, a member of the Special Olympics steering committee.

Robbins’ 47-year-old son Kevin has competed in the Special Olympics since he was 7 years old. He’s particularly skilled at bowling and bocce ball. Kevin is one of about 700 athletes who participate in the Rowan County Special Olympics, which offer everything from equestrian to track and field. The organization wouldn’t be able to provide services without the Polar Plunge.

“This is fantastic,” Robbins said. “We have so much community support with this fundraiser. We only have to do one.”

More information about Special Olympics Rowan County can be found on the organization’s Facebook page or at sonc.net/rowan.

About Ben Stansell

Ben Stansell covers business, county government and more for the Salisbury Post. He joined the staff in August 2020 after graduating from the University of Alabama. Email him at ben.stansell@salisburypost.com.

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