EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- Competing in the Special Olympics is a dream come try for many local athletes.
And on Sunday, more than a thousand people stripped down and jumped into freezing Half Moon Lake to keep that dream alive for disabled athletes.
WEAU 13 News was there as the brave swimmers took the leap of faith for the Wisconsin Special Olympics’ Polar Plunge 2012.
“It was just a rush of adrenaline; I just wanted to get out of there right away,” said Regis High School student Steven Hehli after he jumped into the lake.
“This is the third year I've done it. But it's still cold,” said Jerry Link of Colfax who was dressed as Papa Smurf.
Gargamel and a team of Smurfs were just a few of the 1,200 people to take the big plunge at Half Moon Beach on Sunday afternoon.
“Every year they're challenged with what costume to come up with. It always seems like we're tapping into new volunteers, new people who are donating and raising money,” said event organizer Karen Kraus.
Kraus said the money raised at this year’s event was well over $150,000.
She said the Special Olympics is a cause many in the Chippewa Valley have rallied around.
“Everyone in some way has been affected by a Special Olympics athlete, whether you work with them, you see them; they're a vital part of the community,” Kraus said.
“My grandma taught Special Olympics so it's really important to me. I'm really happy about this,” Hehli said.
Organizers said money raised by plungers will go directly to local athletes who participate in the Special Olympics.
“This is helping pay for the facility fees, helping pay for uniforms and equipment. Those things that help the athletes train and compete year round,” Kraus said.
Greg Kittleson is a local Special Olympics athlete in bowling, basketball and track.
He said he appreciates the support.
“We need a lot of things for our trips and different state tournaments because they cost a lot of money,” Kittleson said.
If you’d like to support the Special Olympics, there is a link posted below.