Morning Sun
  • Plungers, runners shiver for Special Olympics

  • Temperatures hovered in the mid-40s at noon Saturday as Frontenac firefighters added ice to the Crimson Villas swimming pool to help make sure the day’s event qualified as a “polar” plunge.

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  • Temperatures hovered in the mid-40s at noon Saturday as Frontenac firefighters added ice to the Crimson Villas swimming pool to help make sure the day’s event qualified as a “polar” plunge.
    However, the 37-degree water and a sharp, chilly breeze helped to remind those taking the plunge that they were “freezin’ for a reason,” with Special Olympics as their beneficiary.
    Pittsburg’s polar plunge tradition began seven years ago and is an effort coordinated by John Lair, who was recognized before Saturday’s plunge as a finalist for the Special Olympics North America coach of the year, and Chris Moore, the Pittsburg police officer in charge of the law enforcement torch run.
    This was the first year a 5K was added to the event, and Moore said 98 runners and walkers participated for a total of more than $1,500 raised by the morning event alone.
    Runner Dan Hawn said the event was his second 5K, and he placed in the top 10 despite the elements.
    “It was cold, though,” he said.
    Hawn said Leroy Matthews volunteered him to run.
    Matthews, a multi-year veteran of the plunge, said he was eager to try out a 5K for the first time.
    “This is my very first one ever,” he said. “It’s for a great cause. I love it. I’d do anything I can for Special Olympics.”
    The run hit a few hitches, including some misdirection on the course that shaved off part of the distance, but Moore said that is part of the learning curve.
    “It’s the first year,” he said. “That’s why we’re going to have mistakes.”
    “Next year we can only get better and colder.”
    Well over 100 participants showed up at noon for the day’s main event, the polar plunge.
    “This is supposed to be a polar plunge,” Frontenac firefighter Tim Tompkins called out as his crew arrived at the edge of the pool. “Where’s the snow? Where’s the ice?”
    He and the other four firefighters who took the first jump turned around and grabbed coolers, which they emptied into the pool.
    “Wait a minute,” Tompkins said. “We’ve got the ice.”
    Jumpers then took their turns, with wave after wave of plungers hitting the cold water then making a run for the heated tents.
    Alpha Sigma Alpha member Karley Bledsoe said Special Olympics is the organization’s local and national philanthropy, and the house had women participating in the 5K, taking the plunge and helping to serve chili throughout the day.
    “We raised over $700 for the run and the jump,” Bledsoe said. “Last year was a lot colder so this year I think it will be pretty good.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Bledsoe and six other women from the sorority took the plunge wearing their Greek letters, and many other participants wore costumes, including the Crimson Villains, Via Christi’s team, the Shooting Stars and others.
    However, when the Pittsburg Police Department jumped, Police Chief Mendy Hulvey wasn’t wearing a costume - she was wearing her full uniform.
    “Chris (Moore) and I attended the national conference together,” Hulvey said. “We were brainstorming to find ways to get more people involved in Special Olympics.”
    Hulvey mentioned in passing that someone, such as herself, might jump in full uniform if more corporate sponsors could be recruited and Moore took her up on the challenge, finding five new businesses willing to serve as corporate sponsors.
    “I can tell you next year the challenge will be a lot higher,” Hulvey said.
    Holly and Keelie Hazlewood formed the mother-daughter team “In memory of Dad.”
    Hazlewood said she and her dad did the plunge together three times before his death, and seven-year-old Keelie took his place each of the last two years.
    “My dad had a special heart for helping people,” Holly Hazlewood said.
    Keelie Hazlewood said she enjoyed jumping with her mom.
    “It was cold,” she said with a grin on her face.
    Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity member T.J. Graber said he enjoyed the philanthropy project.
    “It feels great,” he said. Any sort of philanthropy stuff, it always feels good.”
    The fraternity sent two to the plunge last year and four this year.
    In the afternoon, Lair said the fundraising efforts were well on their way toward last year’s total of $35,000 raised for Special Olympics.
    He said he has been involved in the Special Olympics program, which includes 1,200 athletes in Southeast Kansas and 121 athletes in Pittsburg, for 19 years.
    “In college, a friend asked me to come to an event for extra credit,” Lair said. “I knew I wanted to be a coach after the first day. It was just awesome.”

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