More than 70 participants plunged into the frigid waters of Lake Bennett at Woolly Hollow State Park on Saturday in an effort to raise money for the Special Olympics of Arkansas.
The Polar Plunge raises money so that athletes have the opportunity to participate in all events at the Special Olympics, Chairman Brenda Dowdy said, noting money raised during the plunge helps cover all funds from supplies to training athletes and educating coaches. Dowdy, who is also a member of the Polar Plunge Board for Area 17, which covers Faulkner, Pope, Conway, Perry and Van Buren counties, said the Polar Plunge works in connection with the Law Enforcement Torch Run, which also raises money for the Special Olympics of Arkansas (SOAR).
The 2018 Polar Plunge held at Woolly Hollow State Park on Saturday raised more than $14,000 unofficially for SOAR.
Saturday's event saw 75 plungers, who ran into the 41-degree waters of Lake Bennett. The event also featured a dessert auction, which saw more than 100 donated desserts auctioned off to plungers and other attendees.
"I wasn't expecting that much," Dowdy said of Saturday's turnout and collection amount."We had a lot of different people, several new participants ... I would just like to thank everyone that participated, made desserts and [who] came out to cheer on [the plungers]."
One participant took the plunge three times Saturday.
Rusty "Lucky" Page, a member of the Punishers Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club and the Faulkner County Sheriff's Office, said he has been involved and actively supported SOAR over the years but that Saturday's event was the first time he personally took the plunge.
The Punishers collectively raised $2,170 for Saturday's Polar Plunge event.
Guy Police Chief Chris Humphrey, who served as the team's captain, was also a first-time plunger for the 2018 Polar Plunge.
While the water was shockingly cold, he said he and other members were glad to help out a good cause.
"It was definitely something that I'm glad I got to experience," he said. "Seeing the athletes there definitely made [one] realize that the fundraising and the cold water was worth it. Our group will definitely be participating again."
Page said the Punishers LEMC is a worldwide group that strives to lend a helping hand and raise money for a number of charity fundraisers.
Humphrey said the team was quick to band together and collect funds in support of SOAR this year.
"As team captain this year, I'm very proud of the hard work that all of the Punishers LEMC did to help raise the funds," he said. "We are fortunate enough to have a network that stretches worldwide and when we reached out, our club brothers didn't hesitate to help. I just hope that we can do it even bigger and better next year."
Several other law enforcement groups including the sheriff's office and the Conway Police Department also participated in Saturday's plunge.
Chief Deputy Matt Rice said the cause is something the sheriff's office will continue to support through the years and, as a former employee of the Conway Human Development Center, something he holds close to his heart.
FCSO spokesman Adam Bledsoe, who cheered on several plungers from the sheriff's office alongside Rice on Saturday, said the polar plunge is an event FCSO looks forward to annually.
"The Faulkner County Sheriff's Office will definitely be participating next year, and hope to double the amount of participants," he said. "The camaraderie this event provides is fantastic."
CHDC Superintendent Sarah Murphey took the plunge into the 41-degree waters Saturday on behalf of CHDC and the athletes it helps train and support.
The CHDC team was the first to take the plunge Saturday.
"Being in an organization that supports athletes and seeing the community come together for the common goal of being able to support the program that allows current and future athletes to compete is the best part of the entire event," she said of CHDC's work and the atmosphere of the annual plunge.
While the water was freezing cold, she said she is thankful for the support CHDC gives the athletes and wanted to applaud Division of Developmental Disabilities Director Melissa Stone and Assistant Director Tammy Benbrook for being the first on a director's level at DDS to participate alongside CHDC employees for the plunge.
Woolly Hollow Superintendent Steve Wilson said the park was pleased to be able to host the event for the eighth year, noting the turnout had greatly improved for this year's event.
"[I]t was a great turnout for a great cause," he said. "We are always so happy to open up our facilities for [the] Special Olympics and we hope to fore more years to come."