The 13th Lebanon Polar Plunge marked a memorable dip into the frigid waters of the Jimmy Floyd Center’s outdoor pool, but for one Wilson County teen, it was a chance to pay homage to his brother who died just a few months ago.
Sam McLeod was an otherwise healthy 9-year-old with autism, who enjoyed bowling with Special Olympics.
“My brother was involved with Special Olympics, and I was doing it in honor of him,” said Noah McLeod, Sam’s brother. “He was involved in Special Olympics on his last day of school.”
According to their mother, Glenna McLeod, Sam went to school as normal Sept. 26. That night, however, Sam woke the family crying in pain from a headache. The next morning, Glenna took Sam to Vanderbilt Hospital, where he was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis. The West Elementary School student died the next day.
On Saturday, Noah McLeod, 14 and a ninth-grader at Wilson Central High School where his mother is a teacher, took the plunge in Sam’s memory surrounded by family and friends from Tulip Grove Baptist Church in Hermitage. In fact, Noah was the second-highest grossing fundraiser, raising more than $1,400 for Special Olympics of Wilson County.
“It was a fun experience because all my friends and family were there,” Noah said. “They helped me do it, even though it was cold. I jumped off the diving board, which was fun.”
Glenna McLeod said about 15 members of the church, along with her husband, took part in the plunge.
“We’ve had a lot of support from family and friends,” she said. “We have been very blessed.”
According to Cindy Baker, director of aquatics at the Jimmy Floyd Center, 78 people took part in Saturday’s plunge that raised nearly $7,500 for Special Olympics of Wilson County. She said it was the most money raised during any past Polar Plunge with all of the proceeds benefitting Wilson County Special Olympics.
Baker said longtime plunge participant Paul Casner was the top fundraiser with more than $1,600. Casner received a year’s membership to the center for his efforts.
And no plunge would be complete without a cast of characters that included knights, horses and other costumed participants. Papa Smurf and Smurfette, who emerged from the chilly water as State Trooper William Bennett and his daughter, Abigail, took home best costume honors.
Following the plunge, the ninth annual Middle Tennessee Aquatics Invitational featured 90 Special Olympics athletes competing in the breaststroke, butterfly, freestyle and backstroke in the center’s much warmer indoor pool.
Baker said more than 20 athletes represented Wilson County both Mt. Juliet High School and the Wavemakers, a community swim program. She said 25 volunteers helped facilitate the event, which included Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto and Lebanon Mayor Phillip Craighead. Both mayors greeted athletes in the awards area and handed out medals to winners throughout the meet. After the meet, the athletes, coaches, family members and volunteers were treated to lunch donated by Chick-Fil-A.