By Adam Singer
To be a Pro Bowl caliber punter in the NFL, one must be steady, dependable, and at the top of his game. St. Louis Rams punter Johnny Hekker displays these qualities both on and off the field. As testament to his commitment to the St. Louis bi-state region, Hekker led a group of fundraisers and Rams fans into the freezing waters of Carlyle Lake in Carlyle, Ill. as part of the annual Carlyle Lake Polar Plunge benefitting Special Olympics Illinois.
The organization provides training and access to athletic competition to children and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities. This annual event raises funds to support Special Olympics Illinois, a group of more than 21,000 athletes and Olympians. Hekker has become quite fond of Special Olympics’ mission after working with them since his college days at Oregon State University.
Hekker arrived to an enthusiastic crowd of participants, supporters and fans, many outfitted in creative and humorous ensembles in an attempt to take home the coveted prize of best team costume. After shedding his coat and sweatpants, the captain of Team Hekker lead the charge of eager plungers into the frigid lake. Upon completion of his quick dip, Hekker handed out awards and posed for pictures with team members, fans and several Special Olympics athletes at the post-plunge party.
Overall, a total of just under 1,200 participants joined together from 10 Illinois counties to raise more than $116,000 to benefit Special Olympics Illinois. Team Hekker raised $5,290 for the athletes of Special Olympics. Sarah Holtman, the top fundraiser for Team Hekker, was awarded four pre-game passes and tickets to the home opener of the Rams 2014 season. Hekker’s chilly swim took place on Saturday February 22, 2014, in Carlyle, Ill. 50 miles east of St. Louis.