Fifteen degrees, a fresh coat of snow, and over 700 "enthusiasts" ready to become personally acquainted with Goose Lake — if only for a few seconds.

With a big square hole cut in the ice, the 10th annual Polar Plunge benefiting Special Olympics Alaska had everyone "Freezin' for a Reason" and enjoying the festivities.

Reactions ranged from "Awesome!" to "It's cold!" as folks checked off an item on a to-do list: jumping into 32 degree waters in the middle of December.   

With Christmas around the corner, everyone was in a festive mood. But the atmosphere was also wistful.

Everyone was missing Jim Balamaci.

"Jim started this event for Alaska," said Nicolle Egan, president of Special Olympics Alaska.


Balamaci, beloved former president and CEO of the organization, died unexpectedly at the age 63 in February.

"We're just really excited to celebrate him and the only way to celebrate him is to honor our athletes and help raise money for the program," Egan said. "We're going to have some fun."

As of Saturday evening, they'd raised over $258,000.

"This is about bringing people together and that's what Special Olympics does," she said.  

And they do it with a beach party.

That's how Jim would have done it.

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