Hearty souls take the Polar Plunge at Tahoe for Special Olympics

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Carson City's Ted Rupert knows what to expect when jumping into the frigid waters of Lake Tahoe. He knows the worst part isn't that first, breath-taking sensation of going under, nor is it the icy reception of the winter air upon emerging.

"The worst part is thinking about jumping in," said Rupert, owner of Rupert's Auto Body. "When you're watching the ice chunks float by, standing in the snow, waiting your turn, that's the worst part."

Rupert was one of the original dozen to take the first leap in 2004 into what has become an annual fundraiser for Special Olympics Nevada. Last weekend, he joined more than 400 others in the annual Polar Plunge at South Lake Tahoe's Zephyr Cove, which raised more than $93,000 for the organization.

"It was wonderful," said Joyce Whitney-Silva, chairwoman of special events and fundraising for Special Olympics of Nevada. "It's a pretty incredible group of people. It absolutely amazes me."

Whitney-Silva, the chief financial officer for Greater Nevada Credit Union, also organized a team of about 100 members from the credit union, which adopted the Titanic as its theme. Members dressed in costumes of that time period and carried a ship into the lake with them.

"Everyone who dressed up in costume did an incredible job," she said.

And despite the snow, she said, Saturday's weather wasn't too bad.

"We got a lot of snow Friday night and Saturday morning," she said. "Then it just stopped. We got a few hours' break, and we had a little bit of blue sky."

She said that in years past, the wind has made it seem colder.

"The water itself did not seem as cold as last year," she said. "But don't get me wrong, it's not like you'd want to stay in there for a half-hour."

Maggie Schwarz, regional vice president of Special Olympics Nevada, said the snow did not deter plungers.

"We had 10-15 new registers every day in the last two weeks, even though the weather was threatening," she said. "And we had quite a few plungers walk up and register that day."

The youngest was 7 years old, and the oldest was 77.

"It was truly something that brought everybody together," she said.

The next fundraiser, Schwarz said, will be Over the Edge, a rappel down the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno on June 30. The event is limited to 80 participants, who will need to raise at least $1,000 each.

"We go from jumping in cold water to jumping off a building," she said.

But, relatively speaking, she said, it's nothing.

"We think we're so brave doing this, but in actuality it pales in comparison," she said. "Our athletes show so much bravery every day of their lives."

And that, Rupert said, is the reason he continues taking the plunge each ear.

"If it was still just 12 people, I'd still be doing it," he said. "For the reason I did it originally - to help the athletes."


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