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Utah Polar Plunge raises funds for Special Olympics

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Superman and a scantily clad Lois Lane plunged into the near-freezing water in Utah Lake on Saturday morning.

Nacho Libre, Mr. Incredible, Cupid and a waddle of penguins followed them into the water.

The annual Polar Plunge, a fundraising event that involves people jumping into the cold waters of Utah Lake, took place at Pelican Beach on the west side of the lake. An area was cleared of the thick layer of ice that sits across most of the water during winter months.

The event, hosted by the Saratoga Springs Police Department, benefited Special Olympics Utah. Although many people showed up for the adventure, the costume contest or simply to witness the event, a number of other people had ties to the Special Olympics and wanted to do something, well, special, to support them.

Paul Rasmussen, who dressed as Superman, was joined by Brent Seeley, whose chest hair peeked out from his pink Lois Lane Playboy bunny outfit; AJ Morley; and Nicole Watt. The four made up the team of "Kylee's Jumpers."

Kylee Phillips is a 10-year-old "special, special-needs little girl," said her mother, Kim Phillips, of Salt Lake City. "We're here because we have Kylee."

Kylee's aunt, Janet Bell, said the group regularly participates in fundraisers in warm weather, but this was their first cold one.

"Our husbands are the ones we suckered into jumping in the lake," Bell said. "We just told them they had to do it, and they just do it because it's Kylee. It's not hard when it's Kylee who asks."

Rasmussen, Kylee's stepfather, said the team raised more than $1,400.

The team that raised the most money for the event was the Hartvigsen Softball Team, bringing in $4,533. The Special Olympics team is trying to raise $13,000 to attend the national competition in Nebraska in July. Coach Tyson Linnell; eight softball players; and Gary Slaymaker, the director of programs for the Hartvigsen School in the Granite School District, all took the plunge in their matching softball uniforms.

"It was that first impact," Slaymaker said. "Once you came up, it was all right."

"It was so fun and not too cold," Hartvigsen softball player Jack Smolka, wrapped in towels, said with a smile as his teeth chattered.

Lyn Rees, director of special events and law enforcement torch run for Special Olympics Utah, said 112 participants braved the 30-something-degree temperatures of Utah Lake.

"This is more than a success," Rees said. "It's better than we ever hoped it could be today."

Rees said the event raised approximately $14,000, significantly more than the $10,000 raised at last year's event.

The biggest individual contributor was Kelly Hall of Saratoga Springs, who raised more than $1,000 to be donated to Saturday's event.

"These kids need it," Hall said of the money raised. "It provides them the opportunity to play the game."

His son, 8-year-old Kage, was recognized as the youngest jumper Saturday. Kage began participating when he was only 5 years old.

"I like to jump in, get my whole body under and then get out as fast as I can," he said.

Jimmy Clayton, dressed as Nacho Libre, talked Josh Hensley, who showed up as Mr. Incredible, into taking the plunge with him. Clayton has participated in five other Polar Plunges over the past three years.

"In my opinion, the water's not all that bad," said Clayton, who belly-flopped into the lake. "It seems worse than it really is. You're so used to the freezing cold out here before you go in that you're OK. Plus, you don't have time to have your core temperature drop."

Clayton's father, Jim Clayton of Riverton, brought his swimsuit Saturday morning and decided a few minutes before the event started to jump in with his three sons, daughter and brother-in-law.

"I don't want to be perceived as a chicken," the elder Clayton said.

For more information on helping Utah's Special Olympics softball and soccer teams, as well as golfers and bowlers, attend the national games in Nebraska this summer, visit sout.org.

e-mail: ejames@desnews.com