One by one, nearly a dozen people plunged into an 8,000-gallon, 35-degree swimming pool in the parking lot of Zaxby’s.
Crazy? Maybe, but their plunges raised money for the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics.
The second annual Parking Lot Polar Plunge raised more than $3,500. The event at Zaxby’s is the only polar plunge in Johnston County that benefits Special Olympics.
Each jumper signed a waiver and donated at least $50 before jumping – no cannonballs or diving permitted. The organizers provided hot chocolate, towels and a place to get warm.
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Shirtless and bedecked in colorful plastic leis, Christopher Vaughn plunged first. “We thoroughly support Special Olympics,” he said.
His wife, Kelly Vaughn, is senior vice president of operations for Special Olympics. She expressed delight in having a polar plunge so close to them.
“It’s wonderful when one of these is in our backyard and I can sacrifice my husband,” Kelly said.
Zaxby’s general manager, Robert Peake, jumped next, raising fingers and shouting “One! Two! Three!” before hitting the water. He smiled even while shivering and drying off with a towel.
“It takes your breath away,” said Shaw Bates, assistant principal at Archer Lodge Middle School, recalling the icy plunge he had just taken.
Bates said his school raised $400 this year, more than triple its donation last year.
Among the spectators were Special Olympians Robert Kelly, who competes in swimming, and Matthew Carpenter, who competes in skiing, volleyball and tennis.
A couple of years ago, real estate agent Frank Devoid presented the idea for the plunge to the now-late Michael Foy Smith, who owned Zaxby’s at the time. Smith, born without one hand, always had a heart for charity. He and Devoid planned last year’s polar plunge, but Smith died before he saw the idea become reality.
Devoid said the idea came when his sons did the polar plunge at N.C. State University. His sons, he said, are athletic and “very fortunate that they can do that sort of thing.” With inspiration from his sons, Devoid began thinking that Clayton should host a plunge to raise money for Special Olympics.
After hosting two polar plunges at Zaxby’s, he and Peake plan to keep the tradition going for many years.
“Hopefully we can get more people to do it,” Peake said.
Law-enforcement agencies from around the state raise about $1 million annually for Special Olympics through golf tournaments, T-shirt sales and polar plunges. The money supports the 38,000 Special Olympians in the state by purchasing uniforms and paying for travel to events.