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Coworkers take icy plunge into raising funds for Special Olympics

Two coworkers team up to participate in the Polar Plunge benefitting Special Olympics.
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Team Shrinkage: Austin Prater and Paul Dlouhy

Team Shrinkage: Austin Prater and Paul Dlouhy /Thomas Hegewald

Paul and Nathan Dlouhy

Paul and Nathan Dlouhy /Thomas Hegewald

Austin Prater and Paul Dlouhy sharing the award for Best Costume: Individual

Austin Prater and Paul Dlouhy sharing the award for Best Costume: Individual /Thomas Hegewald

Light snow fell from an unwelcoming grey sky Saturday morning. There wasn’t even a glimmer of the sun to warm participants in the 9th annual Polar Plunge at Reeds Lake in East Grand Rapids. Having never experienced the adventure of it all, I tagged along with a couple of coworkers, Paul Dlouhy and Austin Prater, who signed up as Team Shrinkage. Polar Plunge is a fundraiser for Special Olympics with 50% of the money raised benefitting Area 11, which is southwest Michigan, and 50% benefitting the state of Michigan.

Team Shrinkage formed only days before the event with hopes of raising the minimum of $100. This would allow Dlouhy’s son, Nathan Dlouhy, to participate again in this year’s Special Olympics. Nathan Dlouhy has participated in ice skating, softball throw and the long jump.

“For three or four years I’ve been thinking I should do this,” Paul Dlouhy explained. “When Austin [Prater] brought it up on Wednesday I thought, ‘I guess I better do it.’” Within just a few days of announcing their participation in the event, the two raised nearly $400 in donations before the event even took place. 

Prior to plunging, participants registered and then hung out at East Grand Rapids Middle School. In the cafeteria, Disney princesses mixed with toga clad individuals, angels and sombrero wearing participants while rock and dance music belted out from speakers. Here in the warmth of the surroundings, the revelry of the participants, ranging in age from 4 to 54, added to the colorful and sometimes zany costumes. According to volunteer, Rob Lee, some of the over 250 plungees had been waiting to register since 9:00 a.m. when registration didn’t even start until 11:00.

Soon enough the time came to board the shuttles to the actual plunging area. But, before anyone could go there was a review of safety precautions and the dire warning of how the icy water would be “a shock like you’ve never felt before.” Participants were then led in a resounding chant of, “Plunge! Plunge! Plunge!” before heading out.

Leaving the warmth of shelter behind, I went by foot to the viewing area for the event, directly behind the EGR Public Safety Department building. Here spectators crowded against the railings on two levels craning their necks for a perfect view of the plunge happening down below.  In search of an even better vantage spot for both photography and video, I followed the same path on the frozen lake as the participants. Rounding the onlookers who had the same thought, I found a spot that gave me a view of participants as they stood on the platform and as they came out of the water. There I planted my tripod and waited.

When Team Shrinkage arrived at the platform they quickly removed their “old geezers” costumes to reveal adult diapers underneath. “Everyone walks up in clothes. We decided to take them off,” explained Prater. As it turned out, it was a good choice. “Man In Diaper” was awarded the Best Costume: Individual Award in the ceremonies held after the plunge. Paul Dlouhy and Prater will share the award as we’ll never really know who wore the diaper the best.

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