Gray skies and a wind chill set the scene for more than 500 participants at Saturday’s polar plunge in Joliet.
The event served as one of several taking place in Illinois over the weekend.
Patty Welsh, who coordinated the event, said this year more than 500 people were expected.
“That’s higher than last year – one of our highest,” she said.
Welsh said the excitement leading up to this year’s event is clear.
“We get there early,” she said. “A lot of people get their spots set up, tailgate, hang out and wait for the plunge to start. We also have about 50 of those people doing the 5K beforehand. They run around the lake.”
At Leisure Lake, participants got into the spirit of the polar plunge, dressed up as anything from DC Comics’ Superman to Eeyore from “Winnie the Pooh.”
Chicago resident Diego Guirado took a dip into the icy water with a group of plungers for Univision Chicago.
“It really feels like a bunch of knives punching through every part of my body, but it’s a fun experience,” he said.
Guirado took several steps to prepare for this year’s plunge. Those included watching video clips, submerging himself into a bathtub of ice and crypto therapy.
“It makes it worth it,” he said. “This is for a good cause. All this pain helps create awareness. You do this crazy stuff, so people on social media can see it.”
Joliet resident Jamie Lewis exited the icy water joined by members of her team, the Cold Blooded Dreamers.
“It was cold,” she said. “I don’t know how people are submerging their entire bodies under the water.”
Lewis said the worst part is the wind. Joliet resident Lauren DuBois agreed.
“It made it colder,” she said.
Manhattan resident Brandon Doyle said taking the plunge this time around was more challenging than in the past.
“I’ve done this before,” he said. “This is, by far, the worst.”
Welsh credited the success of this year’s polar plunge to word of mouth and those interested in forming larger teams. The event is put on by Special Olympics Illinois to raise money to support athletes with special needs. According to its website, Special Olympics Illinois raised almost $120,000 at the polar plunge in Joliet. The deadline to make donations to support the cause is 11 p.m. April 30. Welsh said it’s wonderful seeing the community’s support of the event.