Lake of the Ozarks, MO. -   On Friday, Feb. 24, Jessie Wells will make the 45-minute drive from Jefferson City to Lake of the Ozarks to take a swim. During the summer months, it's typical to see  many  visitors and locals splashing around in the water, but in the heart of wintertime in Missouri, not so much. And, believe it or not, Wells will not be alone in her frigid foray into the Lake. Hundreds of people will join Wells in the chilly water over the course of the weekend to raise money for Special Olympics Missouri during the 22nd Annual Polar Plunge, February 24 and 25.

Jessie Wells, left, poses for a photo with Melissa Jane Lee after emerging from the frigid waters of Lake of the Ozarks during a past Polar Plunge event. Both plunge as part of the Davis' Dawgs fundraising team.
The Polar Plunge has become an integral part of the season for Wells, who lives in Jefferson City and works as a pharmacy technician at Flow's Pharmacy in Columbia. The 2017 event marks her tenth consecutive Polar Plunge. Wells sites her late uncle, Ricky, and his best friend, Tom, who also happened to be her neighbor growing up, as her inspiration for "taking the Plunge." Both Ricky and Tom had Downs Syndrome and played on the same basketball and bowling teams as part of the Special Olympics program. Through generous donations and fundraising events like the Polar Plunge, Special Olympics Missouri is able to offer year-around sports and training programs for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. 

"The Plunge means a lot to me," says Wells. "I do this for something so incredible, so beautiful and in memory of Ricky and Tom. It is my way of showing my respect, love and support for the athletes of Special Olympics. The day of the Plunge is a day of so much love, support, smiles, laughter and much more. It's hard to explain how freezing can be fun, but until someone gives it a try, they really won't understand.  It warms my heart and I look forward to it every year."

Hundreds of spectators attend the Polar Plunge to offer support to participants.
The Lake of the Ozarks Polar Plunge takes place at Public Beach #2 in Lake of the Ozarks State Park and draws anywhere between 400 and 600 participants and up to one thousand spectators each year. According to Tim Jacobsen, executive director of the Lake of the Ozarks Convention and Visitor Bureau, many of these visitors build a winter weekend getaway around the Polar Plunge to take advantage of off-season lodging rates and smaller crowds at the various year-around attractions.

Events kick off on Friday, Feb. 24, with two smaller plunges: the PeeWee Plunge and the Super Plunge. The PeeWee Plunge, which features a heated tent and warm-water pool, begins at 6:30 p.m. and is for children nine years and younger that also want to participate and contribute to Special Olympics. The Super Plunge, consisting of 24 dips in the Lake within a 24-hour period, is for participants who want to go way above and beyond in their fundraising and their shivering.

Wells will be participating in her first Super Plunge this year. "I have never been this excited and terrified at the same time in my life," Wells says. "I have wanted to do the Super Plunge for the last six years. And, now that it's almost here, the nerves are beginning to set in. But, we are all 'freezin' for a reason,' so the incredible athletes keep us motivated and the support we receive through donations makes it totally worth it."

Many teams dress in themed costumes for their plunge.
The main event takes place on Saturday, Feb. 25 and begins with registration from noon until 1:50 p.m. 
Many participating teams and individuals dress up in colorful, creative and often themed costumes for their plunge, so the event begins with an entertaining masquerade parade at 2 p.m. After the parade, all the  "plungers" charge into the chilly water at 2:30 p.m.

Later in the day, the festivities move to Tan-Tar-A Resort in Osage Beach, the event's host hotel, for a Post-Plunge Party from 4-7 p.m. The party features the presentation of the "Golden Plunger Awards" for the best costumes, both a silent and live auction, and plenty of food and drinks. The party is free for Polar Plunge participants but costs $5 per guest/spectator. All proceeds from the party will go to Special Olympics Missouri.

The 2016 Lake of the Ozarks Polar Plunge had 377 participants and raised nearly $164,000 for Special Olympics Missouri.
According to Crystal Schuster, development manager for Special Olympics Missouri and Polar Plunge organizer, the 2016 Lake of the Ozarks Polar Plunge raised nearly $164,000 for Special Olympics Missouri. "The Plunge is a fun and interesting way to bring different communities from around Central Missouri together for a great charity," Schuster adds. "People absolutely love the thrill and excitement of it all."

Aside from the Lake of of the Ozarks plunge, which Schuster refers to as the "Granddaddy of the Plunges," there are 12 other plunges that take place around Missouri throughout the month of February. All "plungers" raise funds for Special Olympics prior to their respective events and prizes are awarded to the top fundraisers. In all, the 2016 Missouri plunges raised $979,837; however, Schuster hopes to surpass $1 million in 2017, a goal she says they are well on their way to meeting.

The Cat in the Hat and Things One, Two, Three and Four splash into the Lake during the 2016 Polar Plunge.
The safety of each and every participant is of the utmost importance and Special Olympics makes sure to have lifeguards, divers, medical and emergency personnel, heaters, warming shelters and warming mechanisms on hand at every event. There also will be concession tents offering food, hot chocolate, coffee and other refreshments, as well as a souvenir tent selling Polar Plunge merchandise. 

Prior to the afternoon plunge, there is a Polar Bear Strut, a 5K walk/run, on Saturday morning. The Strut begins and concludes at City Hall in Osage Beach. Registration for the Strut runs from 8-9:30 a.m., with the walk/run kicking off at 10 a.m. Based upon last year's numbers, organizers are expecting close to 100 participants.

The Polar Plunge and Polar Bear Strut are projects of the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Missouri and is proudly hosted by the Osage Beach Police Department.

For more information on all the Polar Plunge activities at the Lake of the Ozarks, or for details on how to volunteer to make donations, visit Special Olympics Missouri's website at

For other fun events, a complete list of lodging options, all attractions and dining spots at the "Best Recreational Lake" in the Nation, visit the the Lake of the Ozarks Convention and Visitor Bureau's award-winning website,, or call 1-800-FUN-LAKE (386-5253).

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