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Polar Plunge raises record amount

It wasn’t quite polar weather Saturday, but that didn’t matter to about 1,400 adventurous types who took the plunge in Lake Erie at Woodlawn Beach State Park.

That was the largest number of plungers, and they raised more than $145,000 for Special Olympics, the most that has been raised in the nine years the event has been held here. Twelve police, fire and EMT agencies helped out in the water, on the beach and with traffic control at the event.

“This is our best year ever,” said Renee Snyder, vice president of development and public awareness for Special Olympics New York. “I think the weather has something to do with it this year.”

It was a balmy 45 degrees at the Town of Hamburg beach, and the lake temperature was 46 degrees.

It was a perfect day for silly hats and crazy costumes, from the Village People to Elsa from “Frozen.” One hardy soul wore just a thong.

Not the type of day you’d want to spend a lot of time in the water, but with the sunshine and blue sky, it looked like the middle of August at the beach instead of December.

“It was good,” said Nick Zmuda, a Special Olympian from Lackawanna who made his fifth plunge. “The reason it’s the best: there’s no snow, it’s not like 20 degrees or 10 degrees, there’s no wind.”

Zmuda plays floor hockey, bowling, basketball and softball with Special Olympics, and he missed a club ice hockey tournament in St. Catharines, Ont., to make the plunge.

“I tried to go in as far as ever,” he said, adding he went in “like, up to here,” pointing to his waist.

Others dunked under the surface.

Toni Carnabuci-Howard of Jamestown was invigorated after her swim. Dressed in black pants and shirt with a white patch on the front, she was part of the Perky Penguins team.

“We started out with $200, then we went up to five, now we’re over $1,000, and so we were able to sponsor two people for the Special Olympics for the whole year,” she said of the group’s fundraising efforts. “Every time I think about it I really want to cry. It was just pocket change.”

She said the camaraderie in the water was great, and everyone had a good time. She didn’t mind the warmer weather, but she had already taken some good-natured ribbing from friends.

“Do you know how many people were angry with us because it was so warm,” she said with a giggle.

Special Olympics New York offers year-round training and competition in 22 Olympic-style sports. The group also will be starting Project Unify in Section 6 public schools, creating inclusive sports leagues for students with and without intellectual disabilities.