For 19 years, people from around Helena have been jumping into freezing water in the middle of winter – for a good reason. It’s part of the annual Sweetheart Passion Plunge, organized by local law enforcement officers to raise money for Special Olympics Montana.
The Passion Plunge is one of a number of “Polar Plunge” events being held around the state this winter, run by the Law Enforcement Torch Run. The Helena event is usually held at Spring Meadow Lake State Park. Organizers decided just days before this year’s event that it wasn’t safe to do it outside, with temperatures expected to be below zero. On short notice, Robert Allen Nissan offered to host the plunge.
“Robert Allen Nissan has been great from the very beginning this year with the Passion Plunge, and they were huge letting us use their bays today,” said Sgt. Berkley Conrad of the Helena Police Department.
Organizers said this was the first time they had to relocate because of weather, and that they were determined the plunge should go on as planned.
Despite the last-minute changes, there were still about 70 people ready to take the plunge. Many were in costume, often in line with this year’s Hawaiian theme for the event.
Instead of a hole in the ice, this year they jumped into a tank full of ice water. D.J. Zapata of the Helena Police Department, who has worked as the regional coordinator of the Law Enforcement Torch Run, went into the water five times.
No plungers raised more money than Team Emmalee. They have been taking part in the event for seven years to support kids like Heather Parmer’s daughter Emmalee, who will turn eight on Valentines Day.
“Special Olympics gives the opportunity to kids that normally aren’t able to be involved in other sporting events to have the opportunity to do so,” said Parmer.
Team Emmalee has been the event’s top fundraiser for four years, and team member Tony Novak was the largest individual fundraiser.
“We’re really proud of the support we get for it,” he said.
This year, organizers say the Passion Plunge has raised at least $30,000 to support Special Olympics Montana. 60 percent of the proceeds stay with Special Olympics teams in the Helena area, while the rest goes toward other Special Olympics events in the state.
“Obviously the fundraising really helps us, but really that awareness building, people coming to show support for our athletes in the community – it goes a long way and our athletes absolutely love it,” said Mandy Patriarche, Special Olympics Montana’s development director.
Conrad said organizers were grateful for those who took part in the plunge.
“That they come out and take some time out of their weekend and jump into a large tub of ice water is incredible,” he said. “It’s great to see the athletes out here, law enforcement out here and the community, all working together for a big event like this, to a good cause.”
-Reported by Jonathon Ambarian/MTN News