Just as it’s getting warm outside, the temperature dropped quickly for those who participated in the 2nd annual Otter Tail County Polar Plunge as local individuals and teams leaped into the icy Otter Tail Lake on Saturday with style.

This massively successful charitable event for Special Olympics Minnesota raised more than $50,000, well over the initial goal of $35,000. With over 27 locations all around the state, the Polar Plunge is the biggest fundraiser for Special Olympics Minnesota.

Perham resident Missy Carsen has been fundraising for Special Olympics Minnesota for four years. This year, Carsen and her fundraising team, the Purple Plungers, raised nearly $9,000. Carsen said, “I have a cousin with cerebral palsy. It means a lot to me and it’s just for a good cause.”

Another Perham Purple Plunger, Dan Mattfeld, enthusiastically dove into the freezing lake sporting a purple and gold face, purple beard, and kilt. Mattfeld is excited about being a part of the Viking World Order, a Viking superfan group. “We do all kinds of charities and fundraising” Mattfeld said, “It’s all about giving quality of life to everybody.”

Zachary Paige of Vergas gives two thumbs up after emerging from the icy water of Otter Tail Lake on Saturday, March 13.
Zachary Paige of Vergas gives two thumbs up after emerging from the icy water of Otter Tail Lake on Saturday, March 13.

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Tyler Heinz, the Development and Events Specialist for Special Olympics Minnesota helped develop safety measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We are spreading out the plunge a bit this year with 25 people every 15 minutes,” Heinz said. “It’ll take a little bit longer, but we are excited to be able to do an in-person event again and have some fun outside.”

Heinz also explained that all funds stay within the state of Minnesota, “With every plunge, the money goes to our state office where we provide access to those events for our (Special Olympic) athletes all around the state.”

Marie Noplos is the marketing and membership director for the Otter Tail Lakes Country Association. “There are over 8,000 Special Olympic athletes. With COVID this last year, it has been really hard for everyone. Some of the athletes lost jobs or didn’t get to participate in their sports.” Noplos explained, “This is something that everyone looks forward to, and for such a great cause.”

Many of Otter Tail County’s plungers, like Scott Backstrom of Pelican Rapids, who goes by Admiral BigGun, used to seek out Polar Plunge events many hours away. Now, they can participate locally. “Raising money is the hard part, plunging is the easy part.” BigGun said. Individually, BigGun raised over $3,000 this year, nearly twice as much as last year.

Similarly, Wayne Hanson, a coach for the Fergus Falls Special Olympics Junior Team nearly doubled the amount of funds they raised last year. Hanson’s team, the Fergus Falls Frozen Assets, raised over $15,000 for Special Olympics Minnesota this year.

The Mario Brothers catch their breath after their Polar Plunge. (Meg E. Perry / Perham Focus)
The Mario Brothers catch their breath after their Polar Plunge. (Meg E. Perry / Perham Focus)

The 2021 Otter Tail Lake Polar Plunge, consisting of 150 plungers, is made possible through a partnership between Special Olympics Minnesota, Otter Tail County, and Otter Tail County Sheriff's Office. Learn more about how you can take the plunge to support Special Olympics Minnesota at specialolympicsminnesota.org.