FROM THE HIP: Go jump in a lake!

- I've been asked by my managers to share some thoughts and some stories you may not have heard in a daily column as I continue recuperating from a broken hip just over 3 weeks ago. (Get it?  "From the Hip"!)

Several years ago the folks at Special Olympics Minnesota approached my colleague (and favorite target for fun-loving ribbing) Ian Leonard about getting involved with their Polar Plunge campaign. Once Ian met the organizers, and many of the Special Olympians, he was hooked.

But what the organizers may not have known is who they were hitching their wagon to. Ian is perhaps the most energized, entertaining and talented guy I've ever known. His involvement doesn't just mean jumping in the lake.  It's a year round commitment to planning and making the event grow.

On Saturday at Lake Calhoun, Minnesota's largest annual Polar Plunge was another overwhelming success.  As in year's past Ian recruited co-workers and friends to join countless other individuals, corporate teams, law enforcement and volunteers.  This year's theme: Purple Rain, an homage to the late, great Prince. Just look at the smiles shared!

In addition to getting Ian's enthusiasm, his wife Kristi and daughters Jordan and Katie quickly jumped on board.  They are in charge of choosing all of the costumes, and making them, for all of Ian's jumps. That includes the costumes for everyone on Ian's team as well!  A room in their basement stores all of the costumes from Plunges past in case any crossover can be taking advantage of, but by and large all of the costumes are made from scratch. Creativity abounds!  Although I mentioned before, in that wig Ian looks a lot like Owen Wilson!

Aside from the fun and camaraderie at these events, is what really matters -- the chance to meet many Special Olympians who can't wait to be part of the team. Wonderful people like Katie Timmers a plunge regular and world class Special Olympics golfer! Fox 9's Courtney Godfrey was one of many who got to spend time with our friend Katie Saturday.. who can't meet anyone without a big warm hug and a few laughs!

But here's something you might not know.  When Ian first came on board a decade or so ago, the Polar Plunges were raising between $200,000 to $300,000 a year for Special Olympics Minnesota. Nowadays, thanks to the many volunteers, Special Olympics Leadership, enthusiastic "plungers" from far and wide, and the Leonard family.. the Polar Plunges raise $3 MILLION or more!  All of it going to the very Special athletes who prove there are no boundaries for anyone who wants to compete!

I've joined Ian many times to Plunge.  So I can tell you first hand what fun it can be.  Add in the fact that for a moment or two of "yikes" in the water you're helping a great cause.   And you still have a chance.  Polar Plunges are scheduled for Saturday, Mar. 11 in Eden Prairie, Mille Lacs and Buffalo, and Saturday, Mar. 18 in Grand rapids and Warroad.  For more info. you can go to: http://www.plungemn.org.  If you can't plunge you can always make a donation.. it all adds up!

In addition, now I can tell Ian to "Go Jump in a Lake".. and he'll do it!  I'd mention his "Bad Pants Open" golf tournament next fall that raises funds for Special Olympics as well, but just thinking about Ian's swing makes me queasy!

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