Hundreds take the plunge for York County Special Olympics

Christopher Dornblaser
505-5436/@YDDornblaser
Tinker Bell, characterized by Russell Kuhn, of Coatesville, walks up the dock, during the ninth annual York County Special Olympics Polar Bear Plunge Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017, behind John Wright Restaurant, in Wrightsville. This year's plunge saw about 700 participants . Amanda J. Cain photo
  • About 700 people plunged into the Susquehanna River for the ninth annual Polar Bear Plunge
  • The event raised around $80,000 for York County Special Olympics.

Dressed as Tinker Bell, Russell Kuhn, of Coatesville, was soaked from head to toe after he took a brief dip in the Susquehanna River in Wrightsville on Saturday.

"I am completely numb now," he said,

The Chester County resident was among the 700 people "Freezin' for a Reason" during the ninth annual Polar Bear Plunge, which supports  Special Olympics York County.

Many wore  costumes as they waded into the frigid river.

While the temperature outside was in the 20s, the water itself was nearly 40 degrees. That didn't make it feel any warmer to the participants, though.

"It was much colder than I thought it was," Kuhn said as he shivered in his tights.

Yorkers take the Polar Bear Plunge for Special Olympics

Plungers react to the cold water, during the ninth annual York County Special Olympics Polar Bear Plunge Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017, behind John Wright Restaurant, in Wrightsville. This year's plunge saw about 700 participants . Amanda J. Cain photo

The plunge: Krista Gardner, volunteer fundraiser coordinator, said this year the plunge actually went off on the intended date. Last year, the event took place  March 5, about  a month after it was originally scheduled. Ice in the river prevented the plunge from happening on time. She said it had been a few years since the plunge happened on its intended date.

Gardner said this year the event raised about $80,000 for  Special Olympics York County .

"This event essentially funds our entire program for the entire year," she said.

In addition to the plunges, there were dances and costume contests. Kuhn took home first prize for his getup.

One of the bigger activities was the "Chicken Dance," where group members who didn't want to get in the chilly water put on chicken hats and danced.

Locals take the plunge at Codorus State Park

York City Police Officer Derek Hartman, of Manchester Township, reacts after his plunge with the Blue Line Plungers during the ninth annual York County Special Olympics Polar Bear Plunge Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017, behind John Wright Restaurant, in Wrightsville. This year's plunge saw about 700 participants . Amanda J. Cain photo

Contributor: Blue Line Plungers, a group of retired and current York County police officers, friends and family members, was a major contributor to the fundraiser.

Penn State York Police Chief Bob Lehman, a retired officer from Spring Garden Township Police, was the team's captain this year.

The group raised $10,000 for the event. They were in the first wave of people to take the plunge.

With 29 members this year, Lehman was happy. He said they strive each year to get 50 members. The chief said the group was able to bring in some newer officers for the 2017 plunge.

"I'm happy that there are quite a few younger guys here," he said.

New to the Blue Line Plungers team was Chris Veseth, of Spring Garden Township. Veseth, whose father is a retired York City Police Officer, made headlines in September when a GoFundMe campaign helped raised thousands to get him a new wheelchair.

Veseth said he tried to do it last year, but the dates didn't work. He called the plunge a "family affair," adding that his brother, Travis Veseth, would be plunging as well.

"It's for a good cause," he said. "It feels good."

Veseth's team helped him into the water during their wave.

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Plungers: Nine waves of participants took the plunge  Saturday, and each wave was led into the  water by a Special Olympian. People could participate in the event in either a big group or individually.

Kuhn and his wife, Debbie Longacre, who was dressed as Peter Pan, entered the plunge individually. Together they raised $1,200.

"He talked me into it," Debbie Longacre said.

Alli Stover, of Springettsbury Township, and her group of four, the Plunging Seasons, raised just over $100.

"It does take your breath away when you go under," she said.

A group of employees from the West York Hoss's Steak and Seahouse had come together for the plunge. About 10 of them raised $500 for the event. Their  group was decked out in tutus and tiaras.

Team captain Jase Opperman, of Gettysburg, said he couldn't wait to get in.

"Everybody's going under," he said.

Afterward he said the water was freezing, but that didn't dampen his spirits.

"I'd do it again," he said.

After plunging, Lehman said this year's plunge was excellent.

"We'll be here next year," he said. "That's the best part."

— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at cdornblaser@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @YDDornblaser.