SCHLADMING, AUSTRIA -- Batman, Wonder Woman and nine guys in pajamas jump into a pool. It's a scene begging for a punch line. It's also what took place Sunday afternoon at the Special Olympics World Winter Games. More than 100 law enforcement officers, Special Olympics athletes and honored guests, including Olympic medalists Hannah Teter and Michelle Kwan, jumped, flopped and cannonballed into Sporthotel Royer's 50-degree swimming pool as part of the inaugural Schladming Splash Unified Polar Plunge.
"This was my fifth year doing the Polar Plunge [at Special Olympics fundraisers] and my 14th year raising money for Special Olympics," said Sgt. Gary Gordon of the Republic of Ireland.
Gordon's pajama-clad team of law enforcement officers from around Europe raised $36,000 of the nearly $350,000 collected for Special Olympics International through the event. "I love participating in Special Olympics because as police officers, you see so many bad and sad things every day and you go home and some nights, it's hard to sleep," Gordon said. "But days like this, when you're with the athletes and making a difference, you go home happy, and it makes the bad days disappear."
No time to reflect
In the months before the plunge, Gordon's team decided they needed a theme. "The Special Olympics athlete on our team is named Herman, so we started calling ourselves Herman's Dream Team," said Gordon (pictured in striped pajamas). "Because we're living the dream being a part of his team."
Several of the teams, including Herman's Dream Team, choreographed synchronized entrances to the pool. One team was pushed into the pool by the Coca-Cola bear, another waited to be "pushed" in by its Special Olympics athlete.
"Sec-ond thoughts! Sec-ond thoughts!" Team 3 chanted, before grabbing hands and taking the icy plunge together.
Freezin' for a reason
The pool was cool. But because the air temps felt considerably colder than the water in the Sporthotel pool, the post-plunge moments were even more teeth-chattering.
"I'm from Australia, so this is crazy cold," said officer Alan Morton of Perth, who in keeping with his team's "Justice League" theme was dressed in a full-body Batman costume. "It was 38 degrees Celsius [100 degrees F] when I left home!"
The Special Olympics International employees even dove into the fun. Here, Sally Cohen (left) and Brooke Babb (right) of Washington, D.C., both first-time dippers, come up for air. So -- what did they think?
"I like it," Babb said, wrapping herself in a towel. "Now that I'm out of the water."
Special Olympics International chairman Tim Shriver made quite a splash when he kicked off the event by asking for last-minute volunteers to take the plunge.
"We have a tradition," he said. "Someone who isn't planning to jump is going to jump today. Voluntarily or not." Fortunately, a willing splasher emerged from the crowd: 11-year-old Oles (far left), who took Shriver's hand and jumped.