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‘1,000 needles hitting your body’: Calgary dippers jump into icy lake for Special Olympics Alberta

Calgary's Polar Plunge took over Arbour Lake on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. Devon Simmons/Global News

More than 100 dippers dove into freezing waters for the Polar Plunge in Calgary on Saturday.

READ MORE: Special Olympics athlete participates in Calgary’s Polar Plunge for 8th year in a row

Emergency crews were on standby as people jumped into Arbour Lake in the northwest to raise money for Special Olympics Alberta.

People jumped into cold Calgary waters for the Polar Plunge at Arbour Lake on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. Devon Simmons/Global News

Luka Wartini, an exchange student from Germany, said the water was way colder than he expected.

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“You take off your flip flops and then you walk towards the ice. You stand there, they count down and you get very nervous because your feet get numb already. At the moment they say, ‘One,’ you know there’s [no going back]. And then you jump. You go into the water and it feels like 1,000 needles hitting your body and everything is with pain,” he said.

His initial thought of “What am I doing here?” subsided after he remembered where the money goes.

“It was a really amazing experience and I would like to encourage everybody to do the Polar Plunge next year because it’s worth it and it’s for a good cause,” Wartini said. “Freezin’ for a reason.”

According to Environment and Climate Change Canada, the temperature ranged from 5 C at the start of the event at 10 a.m. to around 2 C by the time it wrapped up at 12:30 p.m. For the 2019 plunge, temperatures were much worse: between -16 C and -17 C with a wind chill between -26 and -27.

 

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Calgary’s Polar Plunge took over Arbour Lake on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. Devon Simmons/Global News

In 2020, the Law Enforcement Torch Run, which raises money for Special Olympics Alberta, has a target of $250,000 through plunges in Edmonton, Lethbridge, Calgary, Red Deer and Medicine Hat. In 2019, the Polar Plunge raised over $180,000 with 450 plungers in the five cities, according to officials.

Det. Theresa Garagan with the Calgary Police Service has a long relationship with Special Olympians as a coach.

“It’s a calming effect for me. It makes things normal for me. Like when you have a really bad day, you meet with the athletes and they just make everything smooth, hakuna matata, life is good,” she said with a laugh.

Garagan explained that volunteers get more out of it than the athletes.

“[The athletes] don’t have a disability. They really, really don’t,” she said. “Everything is normal for them. Everyone can learn from the athletes. They’re such incredible people.”
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People jumped into cold Calgary waters for the Polar Plunge at Arbour Lake on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. Devon Simmons/Global News

Garagan said there are more law enforcement agencies involved in the plunge this year.

“It actually shows the relationship that we have developed over the years and it gets bigger and bigger,” she said. “We started with a small group of people and now we have all these huge sponsors.”

The event is a happy occasion, Garagan said, despite the screams that reverberate when skin hits the water.

“That 30 seconds or 10 seconds of cold — we’ll get over it,” she said. “We’ll be back next year.”

– With a file from Global News’ Jodi Hughes

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