Carson businessman to take plunge for Special Olympics

By Andrew Pridgen

Appeal Staff Writer

Lake Tahoe never freezes.

That doesn't mean it's not freezing.

Just ask Carson resident Ted Rupert, who is preparing to take his fourth consecutive mid-winter plunge into the lake this weekend for one very good cause - the Special Olympics.

"This is the fifth one," said Rupert, owner of Rupert's Auto Body and one of the event's organizers. "I remember reading about the first one and thinking 'I've got to get involved with that.'"

The event, officially coined, "The Polar Bear Plunge 2008" will take place noon Saturday at Ski Run Marina in South Lake Tahoe, Calif.

Participants are encouraged to dress up (or down) and take the plunge into the lake during one of the coldest winters in recent memory.

"It doesn't matter if someone dips their toe in or goes all the way," Rupert said. "I've been there, I've jumped in all the way, and let me tell you, the water feels just above freezing - it's probably about 34 degrees.

"And this year Mother Nature made it nice and chilly - I guess you could say she put the lake on ice for us."

Last year, the event raised some $5,000 to benefit the Special Olympics of Northern California.

This year Special Olympics Northern Nevada has been added as a beneficiary; a move that may bring more Special Olympic athletes to the actual event, Rupert speculated.

"We encourage the athletes to take the plunge if they want to," he said. "It's actually a lot of family and friends. A band plays on the beach and it's fun to see the costumes. Yeah, it's quite an event."

The timing is good for Northern Nevada athletes said Maggie Schwarz, regional director of Special Olympics Nevada. Good because this year's Nevada Special Olympics has been recently relocated to Reno from Las Vegas.

"We're moving the Special Olympics up to (Reno) this summer," she said. "Even if people don't have the enthusiasm to jump into the freezing lake, they can come out and watch the athletes compete this summer.

"We made the conscious decision to move the games to Reno, and it's there we're going to try to keep them."

There are some 4,000 Special Olympics athletes in Nevada, about 1,000 coming from the community and 3,000 through school-sponsored programs. Schwarz said the athletes are split 50/50 between the northern and southern part of the state.

This summer's games commence June 7. Several venues will be in use during that weekend.

"What we're always looking for is training volunteers," Schwarz said. "All our athletes can only do what they do through great coaching."

While volunteer Rupert said he's just a local businessman trying to promote the fundraiser for the kids, his commitment to them will be most apparent Saturday.

"Yeah, just look for the guy who's freezing," he said.

• Contact reporter Andrew Pridgen at apridgen@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1219.

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