Scores of Milwaukee natives dressed in swimsuits and floaties jumping into Lake Michigan in March might seem bizarre to some.
But for Marquette’s Department of Public Safety, this cult gathering of Milwaukee’s most daring is a wonderful opportunity to give back to the community.
For the second year in a row, DPS put together a team of officers to raise money for, and participate in, the third annual Milwaukee Polar Plunge, sponsored by Special Olympics Wisconsin.
As one of 70 teams present for Saturday’s festivities at McKinley Marina, DPS raised $2,105 in online donations, the greatest amount gathered online out of all the teams, and pulled in more than $3,000 overall. Altogether, roughly 300 plungers raised more than $70,000.
Sue Cooper, DPS crime prevention specialist, was the captain of this year’s 21-member squad. Her team included a few students and outnumbered all the other teams. Cooper’s plungers managed to raise about $1,000 more than last year’s team of 12, she said.
“The money we raise stays in the local community, which is nice,” Cooper said.
Special Olympics Wisconsin is a nonprofit, statewide organization providing year-round sports training and competition for people with cognitive disabilities. According to its website, SOWI has seven offices in the state and serves nearly 10,000 athletes in more than 180 communities.
Brandon Tanner, regional director of development for SOWI, participated as a plunger and raised nearly $1,000 for the cause. The 12 Polar Plunges across the state are one of SOWI’s biggest fundraisers and bring in about one-third of its donations, Tanner said.
Though the event is open to the public, law enforcement agencies in Wisconsin have long-standing traditions of working with the organization. The nonprofit honored the five teams of law officers by letting them be the first participants to brave the icy waters.
“It’s an awesome partnership for us,” Tanner said. “It’s also a good opportunity for law enforcement officers to get in the community and be seen in a positive light.”
Sarah Jansky, a junior in the College of Education, and her sister Natalie Jansky, a junior in the College of Communication, also took on the freezing temperatures as members of the “Crazy Irish” team.
The pair joined the team last year after seeing advertisements for the plunge, Sarah said. The Janskys’ team also consists of three other teammates, all in their late 20s and early 30s, and is led by Michael Sullivan, whose wife is a special education teacher.
Sarah said one of her favorite parts of the day was waiting in line to get into the heating tent where participants change clothes. There, she got to observe other plungers and some of their crazy traditions.
Cooper, on the other hand, dreaded the anticipation of running down the runway into the icy cold waters. She said her favorite part was watching the Special Olympic athletes begin the day’s events by running in first.
Despite the freezing cold water, Tanner said there were no health issues. She expressed thanks to the Milwaukee Fire Department and Milwaukee Police Department for providing emergency dive teams to be on alert.
Sarah was more focused on all the people cheering on the plungers than on getting hypothermia.
“Everyone can’t help but smile ear-to-ear,” she said. “No matter where you’re from or what your background is, you know you have one thing in common, and that is having an appreciation for the organization and all those this cause helps.”