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BY SHELLEY BYRNE sbyrne@mayfield-messenger.com

Go jump in a lake.

That's what organizers for the Western Kentucky Polar Plunge to benefit Special Olympics Kentucky are hoping people will do, and several who live and work in Graves County are planning on doing just that. Participants will plunge into the cold water of Kentucky Lake on Saturday at Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park in Gilbertsville.

"It's going to be very cold," said Jessica Torsak, a special education teacher at Graves County High School and captain of the Graves County Arctic Eagles team participating in the event. "I'm hoping the plunge part itself doesn't take too long so I can get into some nice, warm clothes."

Michelle Metcalf, another GCHS special education teacher, is also part of the team.

"Graves wanted to participate in the Polar Plunge to raise money for Special Olympics of Murray and Marshall County while also raising money for our Graves County Unified Track Team, which begins this month," she said.

Forty percent of the money the team raises will go back to help the team, which pairs athletes with and without disabilities in events such as relay races and long jump and shot put competitions. Both athletes will participate, then the score will be calculated by adding their scores together. It is the first year the high school is fielding a team.

"The Polar Plunge was coming up, so it was just the perfect opportunity to promote what we're doing a little bit and also raise some money both for that and with Special Olympics as well," Torsak said.

The unified track team has already signed up its first few athletes and is looking for more. They expect to have their first meet in late Mach.

The Arctic Eagles have come up with a unique way to encourage fundraising for the Polar Plunge.

"This past week, we have been doing a schoolwide fundraiser with the incentive being that one of our special education instructional assistants, Mr. Richard Tobergte (also known as "Mr. T"), will plunge wearing an Aquaman outfit," Metcalf said.

Although a "virtual" plunge is available for those who wish to raise money but not jump in the water, all the Arctic Eagles plan to jump in the water, Metcalf said. Most are also planning on running in the accompanying Polar 5K race.

As far as a strategy for the plunge, she recommends, "Do not think about it; get in and out as fast as possible."

Another group plunging in to help Special Olympics is from Progress Rail in Mayfield.

Bill McDaniel, team captain, is the regional human resource manager. The team has raised close to $2,000. With each $250 raised, a different member of management has promised to jump in.

"They're all signed up for it," McDaniel said. Then he quipped, "They're all, reluctantly, ready to go."

An employee breakfast and bake sale raised more money, and the team has already topped its goal of $1,750.

Progress Rail started a campaign in January 2018 to try to get its employees more involved in the community.

"Those who care about the community will care about their job," McDaniel said. "They will care about their co-workers, and overall you just have an atmosphere of people who want to treat each other right and who will do well and succeed."

Some employees have built handicapped-accessible ramps. Others worked at a domestic violence shelter. The company has also adopted a highway, keeping the right-of-way free from litter.

"The one that seemed to stick really quickly with our employees were the events we have done with Special Olympics," McDaniel said.

Progress Rail has helped coordinate the Big Brown Truck Pull in Paducah, where teams compete to see how fast they can tow a United Parcel Service truck for a specific distance. They also helped run a bowling competition for Special Olympics athletes in Graves County. The Western Kentucky Polar Plunge is their next opportunity to give back to Special Olympics.

"We put it out there, and they jumped right on top of it," McDaniel said of the Progress Rail employees. "They really want to give back to their community. The group as a whole just has a big heart."

As for McDaniel, who said he would take part in the plunge if employees were able to raise at least $1,000, he said he is just praying for warmer weather.

"As long as there's no polar vortex," he said, "I will survive."

For more information or to sign up or donate to a team, visit www.westernkyplunge.com.