Lady Gaga, Al Roker jump in the lake — for charity


For the second year in a row, Lady Gaga took a dip into frigid Lake Michigan as part of the annual Chicago Polar Plunge on Sunday morning at North Avenue Beach.

The popular singer, her fiance and “Chicago Fire” star Taylor Kinney, and “Today” show weatherman Al Roker headlined the celebrities participating in the 16th edition of the fundraising event, which benefits Special Olympics Chicago. Joining them were stars from “Chicago Med” and “Chicago P.D.”

The celebrities and about 6,000 other participants faced relatively mild winter conditions by Chicago winter standards, with the air temperature near a balmy 40 degrees by 10 a.m., water flowing freely and sun poking through a few clouds. In previous years, crews had to break up chunks of ice on the lake to open up a pool of water for the plungers.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel appeared and fist-bumped a few spectators but did not jump in the lake.

“The Polar Plunge is quintessential Chicago,” Emanuel tweeted. “It is a great event that supports an even greater cause.”

About $1.5 million was raised, according to a spokeswoman for Special Olympics Chicago.

Roker, wearing a white shirt and colorful trunks, was part of the first group to plunge, alongside his “Today” colleague Dylan Dreyer. Lady Gaga, Kinney and other “Fire” cast members followed them, lounging and jumping in the water for nearly a minute before emerging. Kinney carried Lady Gaga on his back, before tipping over and falling into the lake with the singer.

Before they all took the dive, “Fire” star David Eigenberg gave a pep talk to Roker, who was participating for the first time.

“Use your best wrestling moves. We wrestle in here, it’s a about a three-minute wrestle,” Eigenberg said. “You did wrestling in high school, right?”

“I took score for the wrestling team,” Roker quipped.

The group of veterans assured Roker that he would feel warm once he got out of the water and encouraged him to embrace the pain of the icy water.

“You gotta feel pain to feel empathy,” Lady Gaga said.

“The Blind Side” actor Quinton Aaron also participated, dunking his 6-foot-8-inch frame into the lake and emerging all smiles, giving high-fives to volunteers as he walked back to the beach.

Other groups included members of the Chicago City Council, the state championship-winning Loyola Academy football team, Chicago Teachers Union, Chicago Athletic Clubs and area media companies.


Folks plunged in donning everything from bikinis to pajamas. One man went in costumed as Archbishop Blase J. Cupich, joined by friends dressed as nuns and priests. One group of women took a dip wearing winking emoji costumes, followed later by women wearing polar bear hats and carrying plungers.

Despite the warmer conditions compared with last year, participants were urged to get in and out of the water quickly so as not to suffer ill effects, such as hyperventilation and sudden increase in heart rate. Emergency medical personnel stood by in the water to keep a lookout, and crews were seen pulling one woman out of the water, covering her with towels and wheeling her away on a stretcher.

Most people coming out the water gasped, shivered and grabbed for a towel before hustling off the beach to the warming tent. But in a nod to the unseasonable warmth of the morning, at least some plungers said they weren’t so affected.

“It wasn’t even that cold,” one man told his friends. “I want to go back in.”

Money raised at the event will help allow Special Olympics Chicago to sustain its athletic programs and reach even more people in the Chicago area, organizers said. There are 6,000 Special Olympic athletes in Chicago competing in 22 sports.

There was no registration fee, but there was a $175 fundraising minimum.

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