Polar Plunge raises about $120K for Special Olympics

About 450 people attend event at Canoe Creek

Teams representing area businesses and organizations take their turns going into Canoe Lake on  Saturday as part of the Winter Games Polar Plunge.

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Joe Miller of Roaring Spring was in the first of eight waves of “plungers” who hit the water Saturday at Canoe Creek State Park and were “Freezin’ for a Reason.”

Miller and about 450 other people turned out to get a little wet and cold for the Special Olympics at the organization’s Winter Games Polar Plunge.

Shirtless, wearing only swim trunks, the 62-year-old was all smiles when he emerged from the lake after his quick dip to raise money for Special Olympics.

“It was a shock,” Miller said, catching his breath. “this was a shock.”

Miller, who works at the Sheetz Distribution Center in Claysburg, said he was talked into it by his fellow workers. It was his first time, and Miller said he would not hesitate to do it again.

Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec About 450 people representing area businesses and organizations, including the Bedford County Transitional Council, waited to take their turn jumping into Canoe Lake on Saturday.

“It reminds me of when I was a kid. I used to do things like this,” Miller said, laughing. “I’m not a kid anymore.”

Sheetz, which had about 250 employees taking part this year, raised $75,000 for Special Olympics, and overall, the event raised $120,000, said Jessica Kury, special events manager for Special Olympics.

Kury said while Sheetz participates in all nine polar plunges across the state, with the corporate headquarters and distribution center in Blair County, the company had its biggest contingent at Saturday’s plunge.

“We’re so happy to support Special Olympics,” Emily Sheetz told the crowd of hundreds of spectators and plungers. “We’re so happy to be partners with you, and we thank you.”

After a morning of fun and entertainment, including costume contests, live music and food, plungers queued up in groups to wait their turn at running into the cold water.

“I’m so happy to see so many people here to support Special Olympics,” said Heather Thomas, the athlete fitness coordinator for Blair County who has participated in Special Olympics for the past 15 years.

“Special Olympics has given me so many wonderful opportunities,” Thomas said, noting it’s allowed her to meet people and make so many friends around the state and throughout the United States. Thomas said her goal is to start a walking club this spring to get athletes in shape.

“All the Special Olympic athletes appreciate you are freezin’ for a reason,” Thomas told the crowd.

Helen Lanzendorfer, 64, of Puzzletown stood on the beach holding a big cardboard sign in support of her coworker, Derrick “Smitty” Smith, at REI in Bedford. She said it was her first year at the plunge, and she was there to support her coworkers who put a team together.

“I think it’s fantastic,” Lanzendorfer said.

Lana Conrad of Altoona, who has taken the polar plunge three times, said getting into the water in February when it’s 27 degrees outside and windy is all about mind over matter.

“It’s hard to think of a better cause,” said the 30-year-old librarian who participated as an individual. Conrad said she’s worked with children and adults with special needs, and she said it’s rewarding to help Special Olympics by raising some money and braving the cold.

“I just imagine it’s a day in July,” she said.

“It’s great to see the athletes, see them compete and see their enthusiasm,” said state police Trooper Dave McGarvey of Troop G in Hollidaysburg, who is one of the area law enforcement officers who acts as a “keeper of the torch”  for Special Olympics. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”

Dylan Brown, 19, of Claysburg said he decided to take the plunge after he was asked by his coworkers at the Sheetz Distribution Center.

“As soon as I dove under, I lost all my breath,” Brown said as he warmed himself by  a fire pit. Brown said it was definitely colder in the water, but that it was a lot of fun and he’d do it again.

“I work in the freezer, so I’m used to the cold,” Brown said.