Aubie, Auburn Mayor Ron Anders, and other prominent figures of the community were just some of the challengers who headed to the seventh-annual Auburn Polar Plunge early in the morning of Jan. 26.
By taking on 40-degree waters in Samford Pool behind Auburn Junior High School, the tenacious swimmers supported Lee County Special Olympics through the proceeds from registration.
Many of those in attendance were in costume in preparation for a contest to judge who was best-dressed before the plunge. Greg Hayes was selected as the winner after he donned the disguise of a New Orleans Saints fan who “was robbed” of a football victory.
A Slurpee, who was really Amanda Miller, was chosen as the runner-up.
A bake sale was set up on one side of the pool, with goodies such as strawberry sprinkle cookies, 7-Up pound cake, and cupcakes available for purchase. Contributed by community members, none of the desserts on display had a fixed price, opting for a pay-what-you-want style of purchasing instead. The sale also gave back to Lee County Special Olympics.
Around 80 to 100 people were said to have signed up for the challenge this year, with attendance doubling this year compared to the 2018 plunge. Registration was available online before the event as well as at the entrance the day of.
“Last year we raised over $10,000 so I am hoping this year we can raise even more than that,” said Elizabeth Kaufman, who is the current director of Lee County Special Olympics.
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Dating back to 2013, the idea of the Polar Plunge was conceived by Auburn Parks and Recreation employee Ryan Molt in his own backyard. Inviting around 18 relatives and friends, the small group celebrated athletes of the Special Olympics by giving back in a unique way.
After the success of the inaugural plunge, the event was moved to Samford Pool the following year, where it has continued to grow in both swimmers, visitors, and funds raised.
Molt himself was one of the day’s daredevils and recounted his moments of wading through the waters.
“It’s rough every year. It’s a lot of fun, but you’ve just gotta get through that 15 to 20 seconds of agony getting across the pool,” said Molt, who acts as league sports coordinator for the city parks department. “It’s really not that bad, you feel nice and refreshed afterwards and then we go downtown where Halftime is hosting a plunge party for us. We get to party a bit and enjoy the fruits of our labor.”
Aubie in particular seemed to struggle at overcoming the challenge, but with support from those watching, such as the announcer and the Chick-fil-A cow, he persevered and swam the full length. Other participants included the Auburn High School men’s soccer team, who collectively raised $2,200 this year, reporters from WLTZ 38 News in Columbus, Ga., and Auburn city council-members Beth Witten, Brett Smith, and Bob Parsons.
“The big thing is the plungers who come out and do it, they’re the ones who really make this work,” Molt said. “We go out and get corporate sponsors which is a good chunk of the money, but a lot of the money comes from people doing the plunge. They get people sponsoring them and supporting their plunge into the water; that’s where the bulk of the money comes from.”
Molt plans to schedule another plunge next year, hoping the event will become even more of an Auburn tradition on the last Sunday of every January.
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