ACWORTH — In a typical year, Special Olympics Georgia raises about $110,000 during its annual “polar plunge” event at Acworth Beach, according to Events Manager Kaitlin Henderson.

This year? More than $180,000, she said. Of that number Team GBI, which included Floyd County Sheriff Dave Roberson and several others from Rome, raised over $22,000.

From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., more than 400 people took turns wading, running and, of course, plunging into Lake Acworth’s icy water to raise money for an organization that supports some 26,000 special-needs athletes across the state, paying to organize and staff events and equip teams. Or, as the event’s website put it, “Freezin’ for a reason.”

Mike Taylor, a Rome resident, is a lieutenant with the Acworth Police Department. He and his son Grant, who’s about to graduate from Armuchee High School, took the icy plunge together.

“We have been doing this for about five years now, ever since the Special Olympics Georgia brought the event to Lake Acworth,” Taylor said. “I have always taught Grant that we need to take every chance possible to do something bigger than ourselves and help others. This is a great way to help some very deserving kids and young adults. It’s fun raising money for the event and we have a great time when we get to run off in the lake and enjoy the day with others.

But was it cold?

“It was the most bone chilling experience of my life,” Rome-based GBI special agent Ghee Wilson said. “It was for a great cause and I was glad to do it....it took over two hours before the feeling returned to my feet.”

Henderson couldn’t say why the event was more successful this year than in years past, but said it would help the organization hit the ground running when it was safe enough for people to play sports together again.

To participate, teams or individuals had to contribute at least $50. Four teams or groups of individuals made the plunge every 20 minutes Saturday.

Among those that took the plunge at 11:30 a.m. were the Boy Scouts of America Troop 241 out of Canton, which took an unorthodox approach: led by two young flag bearers, they stoically marched into the lake until they were up to their chests in the 36-degree water. They paused, turned, and began their march back out while a troop leader barked orders.

They may have followed his directions too well.

“You can speed up a little bit, though,” he joked as they slowly made their way back to shore.

At the same time, members of the team “Up to Snow Good” wrapped themselves in towels and shivered on the sand, and members of the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office prepared for their own plunge a half hour later.

“I talked (Sheriff Craig Owens) into it,” said Maj. Steve Gaynor, the sheriff’s head of community engagement. “(So) I have to go with him,” he added, perhaps regretting the decision.

Rossana Romero and Candace Wright of the Brookhaven Police Department helped each other stretch before their plunge. Both said they had decided to participate to help further a good cause.

Law enforcement agencies are among the Special Olympics’ biggest boosters, Henderson said. Each state in the country has its own polar plunge organized with the help of a local law enforcement agency, and Special Olympics Georgia partnered with the Acworth Police Department for Saturday’s event. Members of the department and Emory’s police department were among the first to jump into the lake Saturday; their team name was “The Right to Remain Frozen.”

Among the participants — and beneficiaries — of Saturday’s plunge was athlete Matthew Wynne, of Alpharetta. Wynne plays soccer and basketball for the Special Ks and softball in the North Metro Miracle League, both based in north Fulton County. He has not played since the start of the pandemic.

“The games have just fully kaputted,” he said.

It was Wynne’s sixth year taking the plunge. A fan of cold showers, he said jumping into the lake didn’t bother him much.

“As an athlete, it’s great to see how much money we’ve raised as a whole polar plunge,” he sad. “It really warms my heart that all these people come out and go out of their way to help an organization like Special Olympics.”

Rome News-Tribune editor John Bailey contributed to this report.

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