Swimmers for the Polar Bear Plunge at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium won't have to worry about fleeing from wild animals.

Swimmers for the Polar Bear Plunge at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium won't have to worry about fleeing from wild animals.

The fundraiser for Special Olympics Ohio will have participants jump into frigid water Feb. 18, but it will be in a special pool erected for the occasion near the polar bear exhibit.

The central Ohio fundraiser hasn't always gotten to boast about being the only polar plunge that includes polar bears.

Paige Ludwig, marketing and development director for Special Olympics Ohio, said the event previously was held at Alum Creek State Park and Crew Stadium.

"This is only the second year at the zoo," she said. "The partnership really goes hand-in-hand."

For the Polar Bear Plunge on Feb. 18, a pool, tents and staging area will be used in the Polar Frontier area.

"It's a really large pool with a stage," Ludwig said. "We set it up at the polar exhibit and we have tents to change and a staging area."

Preparations for the pool begin two days before the event, so Ludwig said the water is usually a nippy 40 degrees.

"I've done it personally," she said. "You do have that adrenaline rush."

More than 300 took the plunge a year ago, and Ludwig said the fundraiser is on track to top that figure next month.

"Last year we had 320 plungers just in Columbus. We're at 173 online right now, so we're looking to break that this year," she told ThisWeek last week.

The central Ohio polar plunge last year raised $60,000 and statewide plunges brought in $380,000. Ludwig said the first plunge was held last weekend at Mosquito Lake in northeast Ohio, and plunges will go until the weekend of March 10. All proceeds benefit Special Olympics events held around the state.

"We provide seven statewide championships and this helps fund those events," Ludwig said.

According to information from the Special Olympics Ohio website, year-round training and competitions are provided for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

To participate in the Central Ohio Polar Bear Plunge, participants must raise a minimum of $75. Students must raise at least $50.

"We encourage people to register early so we can get a head count," Ludwig said. "They can get online and email friends and family to fundraise."

Although early registration is encouraged, Ludwig said plungers can register the day of the event.

Check-in and preregistration is set for Roosters, 3370 Olentangy River Road, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Feb. 17.

Event registration will be held at the zoo from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Feb. 18.

A costume contest for plungers will be held at 1 p.m., with the plunge set for 1:30 to 2:30 p.m.

An awards party for participants will be held from 2 to 4 p.m.

"We provide free food for the plungers and they can have guests come for $10. They can get into the zoo for the day as well," Ludwig said. "We have refreshments, free food and awards for the top fundraisers and the top fundraiser team."

For more information on the Polar Bear Plunge or to register, look online at http://sooh.kintera.org/faf/home/default.asp?ievent=491307.