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Polar Plungers brave icy lake for Special Olympics Kentucky

BY LAUREL BLACK lblack@paducahsun.com

GILBERTSVILLE - Despite temperatures that hovered in the low 20s, Theresa Falder wore flip flops and a polka-dot towel Saturday morning as she stood on the shore of Kentucky Lake. And she wasn't alone.

Falder numbered among 495 participants in the annual Western Kentucky Polar Plunge and Polar Plunge 5K, both of which benefit Special Olympics Kentucky.

"The last time I did it, it wasn't this cold," she said, "so I'm a little nervous."

The plunge marked Falder's second. For her, the cause is personal: her 4-year-old daughter Sophie has Down syndrome, and Falder hopes to involve her in the Special Olympics once she's old enough. Falder and her team - nephews Austin Neihoff, 19, and Steven Lang, 16, and niece Ashley Lang, 20 - wore "Team Sophie" shirts beneath their sweatshirts.

"We're kind of dreading it, but we know it's for a good cause," Steven Lang said.

The family managed to put together about $500 for the event, which works like a much colder walk-a-thon.

Saturday's participants raised about $93,000 for the organization, event chairwoman Laura Miller said. Once sponsor money is added in, the amount is expected to reach about $105,000.

Miller said this year's colder-than-normal temperatures presented some challenges. Ice covered parts of the lake, so rescue squads couldn't put boats in the water - although their ambulances were idling nearby. The plunge site also had to be moved to a place where the ice could be broken up, and the event was paused for 20 minutes so that the divers who ensure the plungers' safety could take a break from the cold.

"This is a very fun event, and we want to keep it fun. We try to think of everything so that our plungers don't have to worry about the safety aspect," she said.

Miller suspected that the chill also affected attendance, which dropped slightly from last year's.

"I do think (the weather) impacted us a little bit, but those who came, they came in full force and they came with great spirits for our athletes, so it was still a great day," she said.

"You have to be a little bit more committed to do this than just to run a 5K," she added.

Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641, or follow @LaurelFBlack on Twitter.

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