Westerville police Chief Joe Morbitzer has been jumping into frigid winter water once a year for seven years now – but he's still not used to it.

"It's a shocker every time you hit that water," he said with a laugh.

Morbitzer's chilly swim comes as part of the annual Columbus Polar Plunge, a fundraiser for Special Olympics Ohio where teams of brave individuals hop into icy water to raise money for an organization they all care about.

Each year, participants set a fundraising goal and solicit sponsors for donations to Special Olympics Ohio. For this year's event, which takes place at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 3, the group has already raised nearly $52,000 of its $75,000 goal, with Morbitzer listed as the top fundraiser as of Jan. 29.

Express Live!, 405 Neil Ave., will be this year's host site.

According to the Special Olympics Ohio website, participants are required to raise a minimum of $75, or $50 for students, in pledges by the day of the event. Plungers must be a minimum of 8 years of age to participate.

Last year's event raised more than $90,000 for a purpose that Morbitzer said he values as much as any charitable cause.

Morbitzer's niece, Heather Tucker, is a Special Olympian who plays basketball, bowls and swims. Morbitzer said watching her and others compete makes it easy to fall in love with the cause.

"You watch and you're sold," he said. "You're committed to seeing those folks have a good time every year."

Six years after his first Polar Plunge, Morbitzer said he still feels the effects of the water, which he said is usually in the 30s or 40s by the time participants jump. Even in years when they've been "spoiled" with 60-degree weather, the water is still "a big shock," he said.

But that shock is a small price for Morbitzer and others.

"To be uncomfortable for a few minutes is well worth what we get out of it with the contributions we put toward Special Olympics," he said.

For more information, visit the Columbus Polar Plunge Facebook page or contact Kate Burdett at 614-239-7050 or kburdett@sooh.org.

aking@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekAndrew