Plunge benefits Special Olympics

The money raised will be used to support the Special Olympics program in Lynchburg and throughout Virginia

cold — Students participating in the sixth annual Hill City Polar Plunge experienced warmer temperatures than last year’s plungers. Photo credit: Christieanna Apon

Cold — Students participating in the sixth annual Hill City Polar Plunge experienced warmer temperatures than last year’s plungers. Photo credit: Christieanna Apon

The sixth annual Hill City Polar Plunge was met with sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-50s, a stark contrast to the 32 degrees and snow that was reported the previous year. The good weather brought more than 75 people to Camp Hydaway to raise money for the Special Olympics of Virginia Saturday, Feb. 21.

A breeze was blowing at Camp Hydaway, the location of the plunge that Liberty University allowed the Special Olympics to use, and students avoided the chill of the shade by sitting on the sunny beach by the lake.

The excitement grew in the crowd as 63 participants gathered for registration an hour before the plunge began.

For an hour, the Albemarle Police Department dive team prepared the lake, setting up boundaries for the swimmers, observing the water temperature and clearing the path for the plungers. One of the divers, Dominick Zambrotter, reported that at the time of the dive, the water in Camp Hydaway Lake was only 41 degrees.


But even with low water temperatures, students, including all of the members of the Liberty women’s volleyball team, were still excited to participate in the plunge. The team of Liberty athletes was named the top fundraising team of the event.

“For me it’s no surprise, because I’ve done this for five years, and this team always supports us each and every year,” Matt Camire, Special Olympics of Virginia’s director of development, said.

Rachel Smoltz, the sophomore outside hitter and defensive specialist for the volleyball team, was named the top individual fundraiser and was awarded a Galaxy S Tablet tablet courtesy of AT&T.

AT&T also provided Dunkin Donuts coffee and doughnuts for the event. According to Camire, because of AT&T’s food donation, Liberty University’s donation of the Camp Hydaway facility and the payment for the T-shirts, nearly 100 percent of the funds raised by the Polar Plunge was donated directly to Special Olympics VA.

Each plunger was required to raise a minimum of $50 to support Special Olympics athletic programs in the local Lynchburg area as well as throughout the state, Camire said.

After announcing the top-fundraising team, Camire awarded the best costume title to a group called the Screaming Buffalo Brothers. Peter Lanham, along with Matt, Stephen and David Clarke, plunged into the icy water for their second time.

Matt dressed up as John Reid, the Lone Ranger from the 2013 Disney film, and David portrayed Tonto, played by Johnny Depp in the movie. Stephen donned a HAZMAT suit, while Lanham rounded out the team dressed as a hotdog.


“It’s a polar plunge. You’ve got to have a random hot dog running in,” Lanham said.

The Screaming Buffalo Brothers won several gift cards as their prize.

PRSSA has been working on coordinating the Polar Plunge since August, according to Ashley Rawsthorne, the account executive from Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA).

“I rounded up a team of 15 students from our club to help spread the word about the event through guerilla marketing on campus, table signups and business-to-business fundraising. It turned out to be a great event,” Rawsthorne said. “I was really thrilled with the outcome.”

Camire had one more award to give out before the participants took the plunge. A few weeks ago, there was another Polar Plunge in Virginia Beach.

At the event, sailors from the USS Eisenhower won the best costume category. They later emailed Camire and wanted to give it to another participant, Scott Catron, who has been a Special Olympics athlete for 14 years.

Catron is involved in swimming events, basketball and soccer. He has participated in the Polar Plunge in Virginia Beach for nine years and has participated in the Camp Hydaway plunge for two years.

As the event wrapped up, the Albemarle County Police Department divers mentioned that they look forward to this event every year, they love coming to Camp Hydaway and they enjoy being around everyone involved.

For more information about the Special Olympics of Virginia, including how to donate, events the organization hosts and more about the cause, visit

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