Hundreds brave Otter Tail's polar plunge for Special Olympics

Dan Mattfeld of the Biggun's Purple Plungers does a war cry after emerging from the ice water Saturday, Feb. 1, at the Special Olympics Polar Plunge on Otter Tail Lake. (RosaLin Alcoser / FOCUS)
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OTTERTAIL -- Thirty teams made up of 199 plungers from all over Otter Tail County and around the area came out onto the ice Saturday, many in costume, to take the plunge for Special Olympics at Otter Tail Lake.

For participants such as Biggan’s Purple Plungers, having a plunge on Otter Tail Lake allowed them to take the leap closer to home. Last year the team plunged in Burnsville, said Purple Plunger Dan Mattfeld, of Perham.

“I did this one today and I’ve got another one two weeks from today,” Mattfeld said, as he plans to plunge for the Special Olympics again this year in Burnsville.

The teams were greeted with warm temperatures of 35 degrees and sturdy ice underfoot for the first Otter Tail County Polar Plunge for the Minnesota Special Olympics Feb. 1. The polar plunge was put on jointly by Special Olympics Minnesota and Otter Tail County Law Enforcement.


Lisa and Jeff Moon, center, took the plunge Saturday dressed as pirates. The City of Ottertail Fire and Rescue helped the jumpers out of the icy water of Otter Tail Lake. (RosaLin Alcoser / FOCUS)

"I had the honor of holding the torch with one of the Special Olympics athletes as they did their pledge,” Otter Tail County Sheriff Barry Fitzgibbons said. “And to take the first jump with one of the athletes from Fergus Falls.”

Special Olympics athletes recited their pledge, “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt,” before Tigirlily sang the national anthem, kicking off the polar plunge.

Each team came out of the warming tent ready for the jump. Ottertail Fire and Rescue stood by in the water and on the ice to help plungers out of the water so they could run back into the warming tent, where they could change and warm up with coffee and hot cocoa.

Representatives from Perham Special Olympics chicken plunger Karine Schattschnieder (left), polar plunger and athlete Gavin Huwe (center), and chicken plunger Ryan Schattschnieder (right) coming out of the warming tent for the Polar Plunge.

The Polar Plunge is the biggest fundraising event for the Minnesota Special Olympic with 28 events going on this year, four of them on Feb. 1. The funds raised support hundreds of sports, teams and sporting events that Special Olympics puts on year around, said Kelsey Guggenberger, an intern with Special Olympics Minnesota.

“Special Olympics Minnesota has been around since 1973,” said Tyler Heinz of Special Olympics Minnesota. “We have over 8,400 athletes statewide and we have 18 sports that go year-round. Most just know us for track and field games, but we have sports all year round; our newest is snowshoeing.”


This fundraising goal, for this, the first Special Olympics Polar Plunge put on in Otter Tail County, was $40,000, Heinz said. However, Otter Tail County exceeded the goal, raising $66,825 by Monday morning, Feb. 3, according to the Polar Plunge website .

Robb Reed, left, and Mark Bolland represented the Perham Area EMS Saturday, Feb. 1, at the Special Olympics Polar Plunge. (RosaLin Alcoser / FOCUS)

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