Polar vortex doesn't deter 30 state officials from taking the Polar Plunge

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By Whitney Bunn
Ingham County Chronicle staff writer

Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum takes the Polar Plunge for Special Olympics on Feb. 27.

Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum takes the Polar Plunge for Special Olympics on Feb. 27. Photo by Riley Thyfault.

Fifteen degrees. Six thousand gallons of ice-cold water. One jump.

On Thursday, Feb. 27, several Michigan officials, including Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum , dove into frigid waters participating in the Third Annual Legislative Polar Plunge for Special Olympics Michigan.

Raising more than $30,000, the 30 plungees sported costumes as they jumped into a pool of freezing water in front of the Michigan State Capital.

Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum wore a hot pink bikini – over a black body suit – for her third Polar Plunge.

Her signature jump?

The “Belly Smacker.”

“That’s what I always do,” Byrum said. “That’s about the only jump I know.”

In the wake of this winter’s Polar Vortex, Byrum admitted that this was the coldest day she’s ever jumped.

Despite the arctic temperatures, she adamantly supported the cause. “I think we all have ties to the Special Olympics, whether we know it or not … This allows all people to compete and enjoy sports.”

According to Michigan’s Special Olympics website, the Polar Plunge raises funds for more than 19,000 athletes to participate in the games. It states, “Although sports are the ‘vehicle,’ the ultimate goal of Special Olympics is to help persons with intellectual disabilities participate and receive respect as members of their community.”

Brett Justice, a firefighter for Delhi Township, took the plunge without holding a major legislative title because he simply enjoys supporting a variety of charities.

“There are a lot of things that are undercut, and I think special needs is one of them … and the Special Olympics gives those kids a lot extra things to look forward to,” said Justice.

And the plunge? He said, “It was freezing, but it was worth it.”

State Rep. Tom Cochran serves Lansing and Ingham County in the 67th District. Jumping for the second time, Cochran said the water was shockingly frigid, but the importance of raising money for the Special Olympics trumped the bitter cold.

Jeff Wiggins of State Representative Aric Nesbitt’s office sported a flashy, hand-painted suit complete with matching face paint for this year’s Plunge after watching the event in years past.

For Wiggins, the jump was personal.

“I had a family member who was special needs and seeing all the good things they do for people who experience those difficulties early in life and overcome adversity,” said Wiggins.

Although the day was polar in temperature, it was tropical in spirit for the Special Olympics Michigan.

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