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Cause for a splash: More than 150 people take plunge to benefit the Special Olympics

Photo by Kristen Ralph

Photo by Kristen Ralph

LAKE LANIER -- Nik Nemeth was freezing on Saturday afternoon -- but for a good reason.

The 18-year-old Brookwood High School graduate was one of more than 150 people who participated in the first Polar Plunge at Lake Lanier. The event was a fundraiser for Special Olympics Georgia.

Although temperatures climbed to about 60 degrees Saturday, the lake water was about 44 degrees.

"It was cold. I felt like I lost my legs," said Nemeth, a Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department Explorer who participated in the plunge with a team from the department named Conway's Cold Convicts.

Plunge participants raised a minimum of $50, and more than $34,000 had been raised as of Friday. The fundraising goal for the event was $50,000.

Special Olympics Georgia provides year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for all children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

Elena Weaver, an athlete from DeKalb County, said she wanted to be a gymnast when she was little, and Special Olympics provided a place for her to learn the sport, make new friends, and compete at the state and national levels.

The Special Olympics pledge, Weaver said, is, "Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."

"Special Olympics has taught us to be brave with our attempts, both with athletics and in our everyday lives," Weaver said, adding that her participation has also taught her discipline and helped her learn to listen to her boss, just as she would her coach.

Duluth resident Linnette Yard has a 15-year-old son who participates in Special Olympics. Additionally, her husband is a coach.

"We believe in Special Olympics wholeheartedly," she said.

Wearing pajamas and holding a stuffed toy, Yard took the plunge into Lake Lanier.

"What a fun way to raise money," she said.

Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department Lt. Col. Don Penkard said a few teams from the department participated in the event. His team, Conway's Cold Convicts, dressed in black-and-white striped outfits and wore a ball and chain around their legs.

"It's a lot of fun, and it's for a fantastic cause," Penkard said. "It's for the Special Olympics, and it's for the kids."

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