Caleb Steers grinned when he thought about the dozens of people who came out to jump into a chilly swimming pool Saturday, raising money for North Carolina Special Olympics athletes like him.
“I like it,” said the 18-year-old, who came to the second annual Apex Polar Plunge wearing three of the medals he has won in gymnastics competitions.
He and his mom, Karen Steers, live in Holly Springs. Caleb Steers is one of about 40,000 people with mental or physical disabilities who compete in the N.C. Special Olympics for free thanks to events like the one Saturday.
Organized by the Apex Police Department, the event in the Shepherd’s Vineyard neighborhood had raised about $1,600 before Saturday. Turnout was lower than last year by about half, organizers said at the event.
But Sgt. Joey Best, who has led the department’s Special Olympics fundraising for the past 14 years, said every dollar helps.
“I don’t think we realize the number of people around us who are affected and will benefit from this,” Best said.
The Apex police host several other events, including a golf tournament and a torch run, for Special Olympics. Last year they raised more than $23,000, Best said.
The police officers were the last to jump Saturday. They one-upped everyone else, swimming the length of the pool instead of getting out as quickly as possible. The group ranged from young officers up to Chief John Letteney, who did a cannonball.
The first jumpers were Peak City Plunge, a play on Apex’s “Peak of Good Living” motto. The leader was Deborah Jenkins, 39, who has a bucket list of 40 things to do before she turns 40. This was one.
Jenkins and her husband, Russ, wore capes and Superman shirts.
“We kind of are blessed with good health,” she said. “So this is our super power, to be able to do things like this.”
Joining them was 7-year-old Isabel Mancuso, daughter of their friend Erica Mancuso. Isabel got $50 for Christmas and donated it to the polar plunge, her mom said. Isabel was too shy to talk about it, but she jumped in confidently with the adults when their turn came around.
Some had other reasons for jumping, like Vinnie Verruto of Raleigh. He came in last in his fantasy football league and had to jump as punishment, along with several other poor performers. And Rick Kohler, who lives nearby, said he jumped with his 6-year-old daughter Izzie because they watched it last year and wanted to get in on the fun this time.
All told, about 50 took the plunge as the temperature hovered in the upper 40s. That was nothing compared with last year, when there had been a layer of ice on the pool just days prior.
Several returning participants joked about the nonpolar weather, but only before they jumped.
Apex Town Council member Gene Schulze was still catching his breath a couple of minutes after toweling off. The former president of the Shepherd’s Vineyard homeowners association is also a former volunteer firefighter. He jumped in with several Apex firefighters.
“I’m proud of my neighborhood for doing this, and the police department does an excellent job putting it on,” Schulze said. “And helping out a group like the Special Olympics, that’s what community’s all about.”
The firefighters he jumped with were on a short break and about to go back to work. They said they volunteered because they liked the cause, and they just laughed off the cold.
“It’s a nice wake-up,” 30-year-old Stephen Crisson said. “Better than a cup of coffee.”
Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran
Want to try?
People who want to participate in a Polar Plunge to benefit the Special Olympics have many more opportunities between now and March.
There are 18 events scheduled around the state. Go to sonc.net/ncpolarplunges for more information.