SIKESTON -- Lt. Jim McNiell has faced many challenges in his 31 years working for the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
Before he retires later this year, there's one more challenge he'd like to take -- but he's going to need the public's help to do it.
McNiell is looking to raise $3,000 by Feb. 1 so he can take the Polar Bear Plunge Feb. 2 at the Trail of Tears State Park in Cape Girardeau County. The event calls for individuals who've raised money for Special Olympics Missouri to jump in a body of, usually ice cold, water at the state park.
"If they get close to $3,000, I will go -- but I don't look forward to it," McNiell said referring to jumping into freezing water.
To date, McNiell has raised $270. He called the current total "a little disappointing," but he remains optimistic.
"If that money's ($3,000) not raised, then it still goes to a good cause. Every cent goes to Special Olympics Missouri," McNiell said.
Through 19 year-round sports, Special Olympics Missouri offers children and adults with mental disabilities training and competition divisioned by age and ability.
Statewide there are about 14,000 Special Olympics Missouri athletes. Nearly 1,300 of those athletes reside in Southeast Missouri.
McNiell said he was recently challenged by supervisors of the Commercial Motor Vehicle Division in Troop E to take the plunge after seeing the news story on television.
"As the coordinator in Troop E for Special Olympics, I am always looking for a way to raise funds for this worthwhile cause," McNiell said.
For the Plunge fundraiser, McNiell said he sent over 200 e-mails to potential sponsors. The only way to donate is online at McNiell's Web site and by credit card. Since he began the challenge earlier this month, McNiell said he's been watching the numbers -- via the Internet -- with interest.
"I've been challenged -- and I've been challenged before," McNiell said. "I'm not refusing to meet the challenge, but a goal has been set, and money will have to be raised and a goal met in order for me to take the plunge," McNiell said.
This also marks the first year Troop E's satellite in Sikeston is raising money by a method other than selling T-shirts. About $12,000 to $18,000 is raised annually through the T-shirt sales, McNiell said.
McNiell commended residents of the Sikeston community, calling them "very giving" to the Special Olympics T-shirt fundraiser.
Lt. Buddy Davis of Cape Girardeau Police Department and Polar Bear Plunge coordinator for Southeast Missouri, said last year $19,000 was raised for Southeast Missouri Special Olympics athletes through the Polar Bear Plunge. This year the goal is $37,500.
"Typically when we raise money, that money benefits the entire Special Olympics Missouri, but money raised through the Polar Bear Plunge benefits only Southeast Missouri Special Olympics athletes," Davis said.
Although the Polar Bear Plunge has been going on in Missouri for a number of years, having started in the Lake of the Ozarks, this will be the second year for the Polar Bear Plunge in Southeast Missouri, Davis said.
"Our technique (to get donations) is e-mail and we ask people to donate and it depends on who you get a hold of," Davis said.
When the day arrives, there are two main rules to taking the plunge, Davis said.
"One rule is participants have to wear shoes, and the other rule is they can't wear a wet suit," Davis said.
However, costumes are allowed. Of the 82 who took the plunge last year, most everyone wore a costume, Davis recalled. There's even an award for best costume.
Last year temperatures were so low, ice had to be broken off the water at Trail of Tears, Davis recalled. Local fire departments and paramedics are on stand-by.
McNiell said he'll probably wear a costume of some sort if he winds up having to take the plunge. The 54-year-old also wondered if there's any danger to the challenge of jumping into a cold body of water.
"Then again, we deal with cold weather all the time," McNiell said.
There's also another detail to McNiell's challenge. If $5,000 is raised, Sgt. Dale Moreland, Troop E public information officer, will join McNiell in taking the plunge.
Although the idea of jumping into a freezing body of water doesn't appeal to Moreland, he said he's up for the challenge.
"This is just another way we can raise money and help those children, and I'm willing to do whatever if they raise that much money," Moreland said. McNiell shared the sentiment.
"It's about giving back to your community," McNiell said about participating in the Plunge fundraiser. "And I cannot think of a better way to give back than to see smiles on the faces of Special Olympics athletes when they compete in their events."
To make a donation, visit www.firstgiving.com/jimmcniell.