The water was cold. The wind had a bite to it. And the sand was frozen. Yet nearly 200 people took a quick dip in Lake Kohlmier on Saturday.

For the third straight year, Owatonna hosted a Polar Plunge to benefit more than 8,000 Special Olympics athletes across Minnesota. Olmstead County Sheriff Kevin Torgerson, who has taken the plunge more than 100 times, led off the day. His Steele County counterpart, Lon Thiele, leaped along side him.

A solo jumper was making his 144th jump. His goal is to get to all the Polar Plunge sites eventually. In 2017 Minnesota Special Olympics is hosting 22 plunges to raise money to support 17 sports and year-round programming for the athletes and training for volunteers who work with them. The two previous plunges in Owatonna combined to raise $68,000 with 350 plungers.

The city of Owatonna and its parks and recreation department were major supporters of the event, along with Flooring Frenzy and More. The Steele County Sheriff's Office and Owatonna Police Department were instrumental in organizing it. The Owatonna Scuba Diving Club provided in-water support and safety. KRFO / Kat Kountry 105 was a promotional sponsor for the plunge.

The Owatonna area Special Olympics team offers basketball, swimming (usually in a warmer setting), poly hockey, track and field, softball, bowling and flag football. About 100 athletes are involved in the Owatonna program. Special Olympics is open to all ages. The Polar Plunge funds state-sponsored events. The local chapter depends on donations from local businesses and organizations to fund their budget.

Some of Saturday's jumpers are athletes. Others are immediate family or friends. Many don't have a direct connection, but said they jumped to support a good cause. Quite a few were making their first plunge. A few took advantage of the too-chicken-to-jump option and threw a rubber chicken into the water.

Those jumping into Lake Kohlmier landed in 4 feet of water. That was followed by a 75-foot swim/walk to the warming tent. Plunges continue every weekend through mid-March. The Rochester plunge is February 10-11.

2017 Polar Plunge
Melissa Hall/Townsquare Media

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