By Sean Barron
Reaching beyond himself and taking steps to better the community warm Matt Perham’s heart – even if that means taking a dip in 33-degree water for the first time.
“I’m not nervous yet, but when we all jump in, my nervousness may kick in,” the Youngstown State University junior and mechanical-engineering major said. “I’m going to run in, submerge myself and get out as fast as I can.”
Perham, who’s also a member of YSU’s Sigma Tau Gamma fraternity, was among those who braved the elements that also included a 28-degree air temperature to take part in Saturday afternoon’s 2019 Mosquito Lake Polar Plunge at Mosquito Lake State Park off state Route 305.
Despite a winter storm warning posted for the Mahoning Valley that called for heavy snow and dangerous travel conditions, an estimated 150 people, including about 120 who registered online, participated in the chill fest fundraiser. Money raised benefits Special Olympics Ohio, noted Kate Burdett, the organization’s marketing director.
Last year’s plunge brought in more than $16,000 for Special Olympics Ohio, which supports training and competitions for athletes with intellectual disabilities, said Burdett, who added that the funds also will go toward the State Winter Games Feb. 13-14 near Cleveland and Kent State University. Athletes in those events will compete in downhill and cross-country skiing as well as figure and speed skating, she said.
Roughly 23,000 athletes statewide participate in the organization’s programs, which include 22 sports and nine competitions each year throughout Ohio, Burdett noted.
“Right now, we are on track to beat that [$16,000] total,” she said.
Perham and fellow YSU student Julio Gonzalez beat any initial nervousness by joining others who entered the frigid waters individually or with a team. Many were clad in bathing suits only, yet were not afraid to go into the icy lake up to their chests or necks.
Perham noted that before the Polar Plunge, his fraternity brothers raised about $750 for Special Olympics Ohio.
Gonzalez’s plan on entering the water was to perform a swan dive or a belly flop.
“I’m pretty excited, honestly,” he said shortly before taking part in the frigid philanthropic effort. “I’m proud to say, ‘Hey, I’m jumping in this lake.’”
Also experiencing a dose of winter, Northeast Ohio style, was Craig Myers of Tampa, Fla., a Special Olympian decked in a snow hat, who came with his uncle, Don Strock of Champion.
The large gathering featured a variety of fancy, colorful costumes and outfits. Perhaps among those most difficult to miss were the eight or nine participants sporting afros complemented by red, white and blue shorts and T-shirts like those worn by the Harlem Globetrotters.
That group included Rene Ghirardi, as well as Jodi Omerzo and her son, Nathan, who began his annual trek in less-than-optimal bodies of water at age 10.
Also part of the festivities was Cortland Moose Lodge 1012 on state Route 46, along with the Galion, Ohio-based nonprofit Ohio State Moose Association.
“We help out with this and other community programs. We’ve partnered with the Ohio State Moose Association,” said Glenn Wilson Jr., the local organization’s past governor.
In addition to the Polar Plunge at Mosquito Lake, OSMA takes part in two other such events in the state, one each in Celina and Lakeview, noted Chairman Gene Morelli. Last year, the three events raised about $67,000 for Special Olympics, he said.