Karen Caldwell is always prepared to do whatever she can to raise money for Special Olympics even if it means dressing up in an outrageous costume and taking hourly plunges into the frigid February water of Weevil Pond.

Caldwell, co-director of Special Olympics Area 12, and her husband Jason will take 24 “super plunges” into the icy cold water beginning shortly before noon on February 15. Their twenty-fourth and final plunge will be at 11:30 a.m. on February 16, immediately following an awards ceremony at Area 12’s fourth annual “Freezin’ for a Reason” Special Olympics Polar Plunge at Weevil Pond on the University of Arkansas at Monticello campus.

The Caldwells, who’ve taken the “Super Plunges” for the last two years, admit that you have to be insane to take routine plunges in the frigid water late at night when the temperature plummets. “The frigid water feels like needles piercing the skin but we’re insane enough to do it again,” Karen said.

For Karen Caldwell, Special Olympics is a family affair that began more than 30 years ago when her brother Rick Donham, a former Special Olympics Area 12 director, was a senior in high school.

Rick Donham

Donham, who is still heavily involved in Special Olympics on the state level, got his sister involved and Donham’s children grew up around these special athletes and developed an early understanding and love for individuals with special needs. In fact, Donham’s daughter Ked Donham now serves as Area 12 co-director with Karen.

While Karen and Jason Caldwell will likely be the only participants taking the hourly polar plunges in Weevil Pond, they won’t be the only Southeast Arkansas residents braving the frigid water. They will be joined on February 16 by Area 12 Special Olympics plunge teams like South Arkansas Rehabilitation, the Chicot County Sheriff’s Office, Dumas Police Department, Drew County Sheriff’s Office and others taking a dip in the icy water to raise money for Special Olympics, a 40-year-old organization that provides sports training and Olympic-type competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

The plungers are asked to get donations of at least $50 from friends, relatives and co-workers in exchange for taking the plunge. At last year’s event, nearly 80 plungers raised $11,000 for Arkansas Area 12 Special Olympics. Area 12 includes Ashley, Bradley, Calhoun, Chicot, Cleveland, Dallas, Desha and Drew counties. [The following Seark Today video shows last year’s plungers “freezin’ for a reason” in Weevil Pond.]
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Prior to the plunge, plungers wearing costumes parade to the pond for a ceremony where awards are presented to those wearing the best costumes and raising the most money.

Caldwell’s plunge team won the award last year for raising the most money but South Arkansas Rehabilitation’s Wizard of Oz-themed costumes bested the Caldwell’s WWF wrestler attire.

Reggie Riley

And, Reggie Riley swept the individual awards category last year. His creative “toasted marshmallow man” won best costume and he was the individual raising the most money.

In addition to the money raised by the plungers, Guerilla Martial Arts & Fitness will be selling all-you-can eat bowls of chili and Area 12 Special Olympics will sell “Chickened Out” t-shirts to those “too chicken” to take the plunge. All proceeds will go to Special Olympics.

The Drew County division of the American Red Cross will provide hot chocolate and coffee to those attending the event.

Several plungers have set up donation accounts online at First Giving but are also soliciting donations in the traditional manner.

For more information, call Ked Donham at 723-2539 or Karen Caldwell at 723-2417. An informational flyer is available online in pdf format.