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CARBONDALE — While air temperatures hung in the mid-30s around noon Saturday, the water in Campus Lake wasn’t too cold, according to members of Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity at Southern Illinois University.

Park Moses, Luke Downen, James Todd, Alex Fox and Eli Fennel of Pi Kappa Phi were just one group of participants braving the frigid waters of Campus Lake in the 2018 Law Enforcement Torch Run Polar Plunge for Special Olympics on Saturday at SIU.

“It got warmer the farther you went,” Fennel said just after the fraternity’s plunge.

“It doesn’t feel so cold until you get out,” Luke Downen said.

Kenesha Eurals of Cairo, who is a Special Olympics athlete plunging with SI Hot Rods, agreed.

“The water was warm, but I wouldn’t do it again,” Kenesha said.

Adam Cunico of Southern Illinois University Police, one of the organizers of the event.

“This is our event. It is one of the biggest events we do each year,” Cunico said. “The ones who brave the cold have a good time.”

The event includes a Donut Dash, a 5K run that allows runners to take time off by eating donut holes from Dunkin’ Donuts along the course. SIU was the first location to add the Donut Dash, according to information from Special Olympics Illinois.

“This is why were are here freezin’ for a reason,” Cunico said as Special Olympics Ambassadors Eric Baumann of Vienna and Marissa Prendergast of Anna walked up.

“This is a Special Olympics event that goes to support us athletes and increase awareness,” Eric said.

In Special Olympics Illinois-Region K, which covers Southern Illinois, 1,585 athletes compete in 17 different team and individual sports.

Marissa had trouble naming all 10 of her sports, which include track and field, swimming, gymnastics, power lifting, basket, softball, bocce, bowling and more.

“I couldn’t remember because I do so many,” she said.

“If we didn’t have this we wouldn’t be able to showcase people with intellectual disabilities or increase our ability levels,” Eric said.

Participants in the Polar Plunge are encouraged to dress in costumes. Prizes are awarded for the best costumes. On Saturday, Marissa was dressed as Sandy from the musical “Grease.”

The plunge is done in groups. Rescue personnel in wet suits are in the lake, as well as a rescue boat. A team from Carbondale Fire Department was on shore to help with any emergency. However, the only assistance needed was a little help coming out of the muddy lake.

Plungers include emergency services personnel, Special Olympics athletes and their families, SIU students and other kind-hearted (or crazy) people who will jump in a lake in February for a good cause.

Lee Chancey of Murphysboro was waiting for her grandson, eight-year-old Cameron, to enter the lake with the Cold Fuzz, a team of police officers from Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, Elkville Police and SIU Police.

“This is his first time,” Chancey said. “He did not hesitate when he was asked.”

Elkville Police Officer Travis Hicks, also a member of the Cold Fuzz, said it was not as cold as he expected. For Hicks and fellow police officers, the event gives them a chance to do more than support a good cause.

“This is a time to come out and do something fun together,” Hicks said.

While the Polar Plunge into Campus Lake is over until next year, Southern Illinoisans have another chance to jump into an icy lake for a good cause. A Polar Plunge is scheduled for March 3 at South Sandusky Beach at Rend Lake. For more information, visit



Marilyn Halstead is a reporter covering Williamson County.

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