“Whoo!” she exclaimed as she came up a few seconds later, hands raised in the air.
More than 50 others, gathered on the sides of Piedmont’s new pool at the Aquatic Center, joined in. Some slid down the giant green slide. Some leapt. A group flailed their arms as they ran under streams of water, screaming and splashing.
Mayor Bill Baker, sporting sunglasses, shorts and a T-shirt, said he was excited and pleased with the turnout for what the city called its First Annual Polar Plunge. Baker told The Star in December that the event was inspired by those he’d seen on TV diving into Lake Michigan years ago.
“I’m very, very pleased,” he said. “I was worried about who would show up and who wouldn’t show up, and I’m very pleased. It looks like at least maybe 200 people or more.”
Those who took the plunge paid a $10 entry fee — all of which went towards a local nonprofit, Venecia’s Foundation, which helps cancer patients. T-shirts were also on sale for $10 and those in attendance were welcome to make personal donations.
By 11 a.m., more than $3,000 had already been donated, according to the event’s treasurer, Jane Minton.
Venecia Butler, the head of the foundation and a four-time breast cancer survivor, said she was shocked by the amount of donations.
“I just love my community, I love Piedmont, and I love the mayor for wanting to do something to support the foundation,” she said.
Many participants said they knew someone personally or had a family member going through cancer, which was what inspired them to jump. Littlejohn was one of them.
“I’ve had a lot of family members die from cancer,” she said.
Butler, who also plunged, said she was thinking of her friends in chemotherapy and all of the ones still fighting cancer when she hit the water.
“They don’t ever complain — people in chemo don’t complain,” she said.
Carridean Bakes, a 20-year-old from Cedar Bluff, plunged with three of her girlfriends, all of whom had family and friends who have or had gone through cancer.
Bakes said she was there to show to support for everyone going through cancer.
“I know it’s an awful thing to fight for, and a little bit of cold water is not going to hurt near as much as cancer does,” she said.
“Amen!” her friend, Katelyn Magda, 22, also from Cedar Bluff, chimed in.
Though the plunge began at 10 a.m., many of its participants were out of the 44- to 46-degree water seconds after, shivering in towels with chattering teeth.
All except for Jerry Rainey. The 63-year-old from Piedmont was still wading through the pool even after all of the other plungers had gotten out.
“I enjoyed [doing it] for this cause because a lot of families go through this cancer thing,” he said when he was finished. “I’m healthy and able to do this. My family’s been lucky so far. We’ve not had any cancer.”
Heather Smyth, 29, runs a martial arts school in Piedmont. Smyth said she made a bet with her students — if they could raise $100 for the foundation — she would plunge. She didn’t expect them to, but they did, she said.
“I had about 15 students show up to see what was going on today so the example that it set for them, it was worth it,” she said.
Staff writer Madasyn Czebiniak: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @MCzebiniak_Star.