YORKVILLE — By one in the afternoon Sunday, the temperature had reached its high for the day: 33 degrees.
The sky was bright blue and smeared with a sun that looked like an egg gone runny in the pan. The water of Loon Lake, tucked into a pocket of dense green trees at Silver Springs State Park, gently lapped against the muddy shore.
Wearing swim trunks and soggy sneakers, Kurt Fogel, of McNabb, stood on a patch of snow telling his friends what it felt like to jump into the half-frozen lake.
“Walking up there with the sun shining in my face, it was nice,” Fogel said. “But going under, that was a shocking experience.”
He had just taken the Law Enforcement Torch Run Polar Plunge, an annual benefit for Illinois Special Olympics. Which is to say, he was one of hundreds on this early March day to — willingly — wade out into the frigid lake and submerge himself in the water.
This year’s plunge, according to Area Director of Special Olympics Illinois Cheryl DePaepe, drew an estimated 400 people and raised close to $95,000 for the organization.
Its attendees ranged from younger kids to older adults, from those bundled in sweatshirts and coats, shivering before they even touched water, to some who wore Hawaiian shirts and sandals in defiance of the late winter chill. They were newcomers and plunge-veterans, some arriving excited and fearless, others anxious for what was to come. All were present for reasons that ran deeper than the plunge itself.
“It was a huge success,” DePaepe said. “There were a lot of people, a lot of great energy. It was great to see.”
The day started in a crowded hall at the Kendall County Fairgrounds, where plungers and their supporters drank coffee and ate bagels, admiring the wild costumes many had donned for the event.
One team, Pot o’ Cold, arrived decked out in green, ornamented by shamrocks. Another, the Vice Cubes, wore aviator sunglasses and white blazers, like Don Johnson circa 1985. The Ice-Ice Babies wore enormous foam ice cubes on their heads.
Kristi Brewer, of St. Charles, was part of a team called the Guardsicles. For her costume, she dressed in the uniform — complete with whistle and life-preserver — that she wears as a lifeguard during the summer.
Brewer said she coaches swimming in the Special Olympics and has a few family members who participate in the games.
“I’m very passionate about the Special Olympics because I’ve seen the good it does in peoples’ lives,” Brewer said.
Liz Palko, of Montgomery, brought two of her friends — rookie plungers both — using that as a sales pitch.
“It’s freezing for a good cause,” Palko said.
From the fairgrounds, buses shuttled the plungers to the lake, where an enthusiastic — and mitten-clad — crowd awaited them.
Group by group, they willed themselves into the water that Brewer, who had done the plunge twice before, called “life-changing.”
“You understand so much more about what it means to be warm,” she said.
More than 30 members — students and staff — of the Coal City school district took the plunge.
One, Sarah Trusty, shivered as she made her way from the shore to the changing tent.
“My feet are frozen,” Trusty said. “It was definitely a shock.”
Derrick Maisonet, a Plano high school student, seemed noticeably less affected.
“It was really cold,” Maisonet said. “But once you get all the way in, it wasn’t that bad.”
Especially when you’re as passionate about the cause as the participants Sunday seemed to be. Lynette Bergeron, of Plattville, has a special needs daughter, and several of her family and friends came out to take the plunge.
“As the mom of a special needs child, it is absolutely amazing to see this support,” Bergeron said. “It absolutely warms my heart.”