They were splishing and splashing in the waters of the Eagle Creek Reservoir in Indianapolis. There were people gathered on the beach. On the shore, there was music and dancing and even a costume party.
Only it wasn’t Memorial Day or the Fourth of July. It was the first Saturday in March.
“We’re disappointed it’s so warm today. It’s like 35 degrees and the water temperature is about 45 degrees, it’s not frozen,” said Michael Furnish, President and CEO of the Special Olympics of Indiana.
Arctic condition are the goal for the Polar Plunge. And though it wasn’t exactly polar on Saturday morning, it was still chilly. And it still raised more than $66,000 for the Special Olympics, making it a special day for them.
“There are two kinds of folks that are here today,” said Furnish. “Most of the people here are crazy about Special Olympics. And some of the people here today are just crazy.”
By his own admission, former Colts defensive end Chukie Nwokorie qualified as both.
“I think about it, totally stupid for doing it. But it’s for a great cause and I understand that,” he rationalized beforehand.
“Freezin’ for a reason” is what they call it. For Nwokorie, supporting fellow athletes was reason enough.
“There are kids, there are men, there are women that are doing the things that we do, they just have some special challenges in doing them. To see them struggle to do the things that we all do, you’ve got to give it to them. I guess you could say they’re fighters. I’m happy to be able to support them and be there on this journey with them.”
Even if it means jumping into frigid water.
“I would do it again. You’re cold for 20 minutes, but that’s it. No ice. I heard there was ice last year. This year, it felt good.”
Furnish is a veteran plunger, completing his ninth on Saturday. He called it a spiritual thing to have so many people excited to participate in such a crazy challenge.
“You’re standing there on the beach saying, ‘Oh my goodness, this is going to be a real experience.’ The second before I go out there, I always think, ‘That is exactly how our athletes feel when we ask for them to compete.’”
Nwokorie said it wasn’t even as bad as the cold tubs he was forced to endure as a player.
“Because you’re in there for not too long. You can actually stay longer if you want. If you have aches and pains, great.”
He’s already planning his second plunge. And he’s got a message for his fellow Colts alumni.
— Special Olympics IN (@SOIndiana) March 5, 2016
“Come out! We’ve got to bring the whole group out here next year.”
As Nwokorie found out, cold water is no match for a warm heart.