WINTHROP — If Ted LaCrone needed an extra dose of motivation to jump through the ice into the crushing cold of Maranacook Lake, it was there on the smiling face of his daughter, Anna. Watching her and her friend, Sarah, run, jump and swim in the Special Olympics each year made the decision to endure a few minutes of pain to help those games continue a no brainer.

“It’s really cold, but it’s really fast,” said LaCrone, of Winthrop, just before Saturday’s Ice Out Plunge. “It’s just really fun because there are a lot of people here to support the same thing as you.”

Charles Clark of the Winthrop Police Department, who helped organize the event, said online registration had accounted for $15,000 before the day even began. The first plunge, held last year, raised $18,000. Officials said this year’s raised more than $26,000.

Weather forecasters had called for a relatively balmy day with sun and temperatures in the 50s. Sadly for those jumping into the lake those forecasts were wrong. Temperatures instead hovered in the low 40s and were given an extra kick by a strong wind that whipped across the lake and blasted participants and spectators who lined the shore between the lake and Bowdoin Street.

“I think we’re just going to cannonball and get it over with,” said Paul Rubashkin, of West Gardiner.

Participants and spectators alike chatted up old friends inside American Legion Alfred W. Maxwell Jr. Post 40 just across the street from the hole, which had been cut through the 18 inches of ice on Friday. Clarke said the rain that fell Friday night forced some quick adjustments Saturday morning to allow people to safely access the hole.

“Right in front next to the shore it’s starting to give way,” Clarke said.

Game Warden Kris MacCabe, who took the plunge last year, said standing at the ice edge, anticipating what awaits, is the worst part of the experience.

“You know it’s going to be cold,” he said. “It’s going to be a windy day. The water won’t feel bad, but I think when you get out it’s going to feel pretty bad.”

It would seem a difficult proposition to inspire dozens of rational people to jump into a frozen lake, but inspiration is one thing Special Olympics has in spades. When asked why they are jumping, people’s most common response is simply, “For Special Olympics.” As if saying the name of the organization, which provides winter and summer Olympic-style competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, is really all anyone needs to know. LaCrone’s 9-year-old daughter, Anna, and her 13-year-old friend, Sarah, swim and compete in track events at the summer games held each year at the University of Maine at Orono. The Olympics have given the girls a chance to participate and compete, just like their other friends at the school and in the community.

“It’s really one of the only ways that they can get involved with sports as kids with special needs,” LaCrone said. “It’s led us to encourage other people to get involved. We’re just really proud.”

This year’s plunge took on an added significance for Winthrop’s Kim Stoneton. She and her teenage daughters, Kelsey and Haley Stoneton, jumped in last year’s plunge. Kelsey Stoneton was just 17 last summer when she died after arteries in her lungs became blocked. Stoneton and Corey Rubchinuk and five other members of their team wore T-shirts bearing on the front the name of Kim Stoneton’s shop, Bloom Salon, and on the back Kelsey Stoneton’s life motto: Just Smile.

“She can’t jump with us, but we’re all thinking of her when we do,” Rubchinuk said.

The plunge, it turns out, was a perfect way to honor Kelsey Stoneton. She and Haley Stoneton have a history of supporting Special Olympics. Haley Stoneton volunteers to help Special Olympic child athletes with swimming and track events. Last year she volunteered at the games in Orono.

A year before the plunge, Stoneton and a friend devised their own fundraiser to jump into an open section of Maranacook Lake to raise money for Special Olympics.

“I’m thinking a Game Warden drove by and said, ‘This is a great place to hold a plunge,'” Rubchinuk said.

Rubchinuk’s joke aside, MacCabe said law enforcement in Maine has a rich history of supporting Special Olympics Maine through the annual torch run and volunteering time at the events. MacCabe has participated in the torch run in Franklin County and Special Olympics’ winter games at Sugarloaf ski resort. Winter events include skiing, Nordic skiing and skating.

“It’s awesome,” MacCabe said. “It’s probably some of the coldest conditions that we have. The athletes are just troopers going out there.”

MacCabe said the volunteer wardens and the athletes develop relationships that are renewed every year.

“Every time we go up to the winter games we see familiar faces,” he said. “They’re excited to see us just as much as we’re excited to see them.”

Lots of folks were anxious to see MacCabe before the plunge. A star of the television series “North Woods Law,” which chronicles the work of Maine Game Wardens, MacCabe graciously accepted every invitation to shake his hand or appear in a photo. Perhaps nobody at the event was more anxious to meet the warden than John Lanoue, of Bedford, N.H. Late last month Lanoue became stranded in the woods when his snowmobile got stuck in the snow in Macdonald Conservation Area in Readfield. With wind chills well below zero and unable to find his way out of woods in the looming darkness, Lanoue hunkered down inside a shelter he made from an uprooted tree. MacCabe and Warden Ethan Buuck found him around 3 a.m.

“These guys found me at 3 o’clock in the morning, and they weren’t going to stop until they found me,” Lanoue said.

He posted the story on his Facebook page, which was shared dozens of times. Lanoue pondered how he could repay the wardens for rescuing him. Clarke suggested taking part in the Ice Out Plunge. Lanoue ran with the idea, raising more than $1,000 in just a few days and donated $500 each to Buuck and MacCabe.

“They’re genuine heroes,” Lanoue said.

Heroes, too, are the athletes who compete in the Special Olympics, said Taisa Lewis, of Winthrop. Her aunt, Laura Lucas, competes in running and equestrian events at the games.

“She’s definitely worth it,” Lewis said. “I will jump in any degree weather just for her.”

Jody Praul, of Augusta, said she has raised funds for the Special Olympics for six years and has volunteered at the Winter Olympics. The experience has stayed with her.

“I watch these individuals, these athletes, they’re so sincere and genuine,” Praul said. “It just really brings me right back to how we should treat each other.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4


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