OTTAWA — More than 100 people jumped into the Illinois River at Heritage Harbor in Ottawa on Saturday, despite a layer of ice visible just a few yards away.
“I would never do this,” said Jesse Botello of Mendota, “but ... it’s for a good cause.”
That cause is the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants the wishes of children who have been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.
Botello said he has a cousin who is physically challenged, and the idea of children suffering tugs at his heart.
“I love kids,” he said. “I have a three-year-old. It makes me think of him, too.”
Botello’s team of 14 people raised more than $2,000 for the Foundation — one third of the amount needed to grant one child’s wish. There were 17 teams that jumped, not bad for a fundraiser only in its second year. Last year, the Penguin Plunge brought in more than double its goal, with 84 jumpers bringing in donations exceeding $13,000.
Saturday’s mild temperatures didn’t take away from the chill experienced by the “plungers.” The breeze didn’t seem so mild after dunking in the icy water.
“It took my breath away,” said first-time jumper Emily Voights of Ottawa. “I was looking at the firemen a couple times, like, ‘I think I might need them,’ but I made it out fine.”
Linda Johnson of Quest Water Sports said there was ice that had to be broken before the event could begin at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Participants came prepared for the cold.
“We had towels ready, and my boots were nearby and everything was all set, I had it figured out,” Voights said.
There was hot chocolate and cookies, an outdoor heater and indoor showering facilities available to warm up jumpers as well.
“I think I’m going to take advantage of that — take a hot shower and change,” Voights said.
Julie Alaimo of Seneca attended the event, but had no intention of getting wet.
“I’m definitely not thinking of jumping in. I’m just out here to watch and support the jumpers,” she said, “and to see the crazy people that are willing to do that.”
“But it’s for a good cause,” she added, “and kudos to them.”
One of those “crazy people” was Kelly Gotch of Streator, who jumped with team “River-Billies.” She and her husband raised $1,700 by jumping with employees of First State Bank of Streator, where they are patrons.
“I couldn’t wait to get right back out,” Gotch said, but added that she would probably do it again. “It wasn’t so bad, actually.”
The total amount of donations this year was unavailable at press time.
“We don’t have official numbers yet,” Johnson said. “We’ll know those probably about Tuesday, because the online (donations) will be going for a while.”
Teams and individuals who brought in the largest amount of donations will be awarded plaques at an “After the Plunge Party” 5-7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 6 at Tracy’s Boat House. Organizers will present representatives from the Make-A-Wish Foundation with a check at that time as well. Jumpers should RSVP to organizer Tammy Barry at email@example.com by Feb. 1.
Amy Flanery can be reached at (815) 220-6975 or firstname.lastname@example.org.