Before running through the sand at North Avenue Beach and jumping into Lake Michigan Sunday morning, actor Dax Shepard specifically thanked the bagpipers of the Shannon Rovers for attending the 17th annual Chicago Polar Plunge.
“Should I pass in the water, they’re going to play something very lovely to honor me, and I thank them for that,” said Shepard, who moments later — wearing a police uniform to promote his new cop comedy “CHIPS” — took the plunge.
Shepard, who was honored as the event’s VIP (Very Important Plunger), was joined by Jack O’Callahan, a member of the 1980 gold medal Olympic hockey team. Kevin Magnuson, son of the late Chicago Blackhawk Keith Magnuson, also jumped in.
The event benefits Special Olympics Chicago and Magnuson serves in the volunteer position of president of the nonprofit organization.
Gubernatorial candidate Chris Kennedy — whose aunt, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, helped found Special Olympics — was also in the first wave of plungers.
Dressed casually in blue jeans, gym shoes and a golf shirt, Kennedy dove arms first.
Moments later, a group of shirtless men dressed in bow ties jumped in.
Over the course of nearly two hours, a parade of about 6,000 plungers sporting a variety of costumes shuffled into the water. Participants raised more than $1.5 million to help pay for transportation of Special Olympic athletes, as well as uniforms, equipment and medals.
The rugby and football teams from Marist High School, one of several Catholic schools represented at the plunge, had four people on their minds in particular.
“Four kids with special needs who are children of faculty members: Lucy Smith, Casey O’Connell, Jack Michicich and Charlie Kettering,” said Marist football coach Pat Dunne.
Heather Bailey, 46, an attorney from Buena Park who dressed up as Harry Caray, said the the most rewarding part of the day was being greeted with a hug by Special Olympic athletes as she arrived at the lakefront.
“That’s what makes it all worth it,” she said.
The weather Sunday — 59-degree air and 39-degree water — was exotic compared with previous years when ice along the lakeshore had to be broken up with heavy machinery to give plungers access to the water.
David Eigenberg, who plunged with several other cast members of “Chicago Fire” and “Chicago P.D.,” laughed at the memory of a cautious television producer warning him against attempting his inaugural plunge five years ago.
“One of our producers was like, ‘I got to talk to you about this. You know, there’s health issues here. You’re going to go in there, and I need you at work on Monday morning,’ and I was like, ‘I’m going to be OK. Five-thousand people do this and I’m sure 4,997 go back to work Monday morning.”