Otter Tail plungers exceed $75k goal

As of Monday, Feb. 6, the Otter Tail Plunge raised $75,291 with 175 total plungers participating in this year's event.

Members of the Deacon Flames Volleyball Club brace themselves for the icy waters of Otter Tail Lake as they take the plunge on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus

PERHAM — A lofty goal was met due to the brave plungers at the Otter Tail Polar Plunge on Saturday, Feb. 4. Despite raising 2023's goal by several thousand dollars, plungers reached the $75,000 goal, and even exceeded it by several hundred dollars.

"We're just so grateful for all the people who have donated and came out to support us — the sponsors, the city of Ottertail, the sheriff's department — the list goes on and on," said Marie Noplos, the event coordinator with the Otter Tail Lakes Country Association. "Special Olympics is such a great, great cause."

As of Monday, Feb. 6, the event raised $75,291 with 175 plungers taking the leap into Otter Tail Lake. All funds raised will go toward Minnesota Special Olympics, an important cause to many who took the plunge Saturday afternoon. Tiera Roggenkamp with the Battle Lake Dairy Queen team shared that, while she has a lot of fun taking the plunge, she also does it to help fund the Special Olympics, as her brother has a disability.

Members of the Battle Lake Dairy Queen team are chilled to the bone after jumping into the cold water during the Otter Tail Plunge on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus

Many plungers just like Roggenkamp lined up with their teams on Saturday afternoon. MC'ed by "Rural by Choice" writer and producer Cory Hepola — who hyped up attendees by announcing money raised — team after team walked under the giant inflatable polar bear set out in the middle of Otter Tail Lake. Bracing themselves for the chilly shock they were about to face, many of these teams gripped each other's hands as they approached the section of the lake carved free of thick ice.

Stands of Otter Tail residents and Special Olympics athletes watched and cheered on each plunger. Then, at the count of three, they all dove into the ice-cold Minnesota lake.


"(Plunging) will take your breath away no matter how experienced you are — no matter how good of shape you're in," Noplos said. "But it's really rewarding."

Marie Noplos (center) and the Otter Tail Lakes Country Association jump into the chilly waters of Otter Tail Lake during the Otter Tail Plunge on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus

After the freezing shock, plungers raced back to a heated tent to warm up and were applauded and congratulated for their efforts. Many of the plungers are experienced and attend year after year. Some, including Noplos, even took the plunge twice on Saturday.

One plunger, Scott Backstrom (also known as "Admiral Big Gun"), had been participating in Twin Cities polar plunges for so long that when Otter Tail County, the Otter Tail Lakes Country Association and the sheriff's office decided they wanted an event in the county, they reached out to Backstrom for help.

"It was a fantastic opportunity to bring this event in a place where you think there's not a lot to do in the winter time, but there certainly is," he said. "We're very grateful for the event this year. The weather couldn't have cooperated better. It's in the high 20s, hardly any wind; I can't complain. This is a great event. A whole lot of people turned out. Maybe they'll let us do it again next year."

The Deacon Flames Volleyball Club gasp as they hit the ice-cold water of Otter Tail Lake during the Otter Tail Plunge on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus

As captain of the Polar Plungers, Backstrom and his teammates raised over $10,000 for the Otter Tail Plunge two years in a row. He appreciates that all the money they work hard to raise stays in Minnesota. Despite the decent weather, he joked that this year seemed colder than most. Because the air was warmer than the water, it was actually much more of a relief to get out of the lake than usual.

"There's no good football on today anyway," Backstrom joked. "So what're we going to do? Sit inside and watch flag football? No. Let's go do something for a good cause."

Hepola also expressed just how happy he was to participate in this year's Otter Tail Plunge. This was his first time doing MC work for the event, but when Noplos reached out to him, he knew he wanted to be a part of it. He sees that Otter Tail County communities care for and support one another, so he decided to lend his voice for the day.

"The people of Otter Tail County are so good about working together, thinking about each other, wanting to help each other," Hepola said. "Just seeing that today, seeing everyone support each other and support a great cause like Special Olympics America, I'm just thankful to be one small piece of this to help."

Elizabeth (she/her), 24, graduated with a degree in Journalism and Communications from the University of Wisconsin–Stout in 2020. Elizabeth has always had a passion for telling stories about people and specializes in community features, which she uses for her Perham-centered content.
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