BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) – If you’ve ever wanted Meredith Vieira to go jump in a lake, you’re in luck. She did. And you can watch it on TV.

Vieira, co-host of the “Today” show, braved the ice-cold waters of Lake Champlain for a charity benefit plunge Wednesday.

Her dip into the 32-degree lake was filmed for broadcast today, when “Today” airs in a remote “winter break” broadcast from Sugarbush Ski Resort in nearby Warren.

Wearing capri pants, a faux tuxedo T-shirt and a furry penguin hat, Vieira, 54, waded into the lake as the cameras rolled, with about 100 spectators hooting and cheering her on. Athletes from Special Olympics Vermont lined the path down to the water, holding towels for Vieira and the other 50 people who participated.

Sheets of ice floated on the water’s surface as she walked in from a boat ramp. She got up to her neck, then turned around to return to shore. When someone yelled to her, she plopped down again, completely submerging herself.

“It is great! It is great!” she said moments later, dripping wet in the 23-degree cold and wrapped in a towel. “It’s definitely worth it. When you think of the kids from Special Olympics who are challenged every day of their lives, this is the very least you can do. And it’s fun.”

The “penguin plunge” was hastily arranged after “Today” show producers called Special Olympics on Friday and told them Vieira wanted to get chilly with it.

Two weeks ago, in the organization’s annual Lake Champlain event, 1,044 people jumped in, raising $358,032. Special Olympics officials didn’t know immediately Wednesday how much was raised by Vieira’s plunge and those of the other participants.

“It’s a shocker when you first go in. But it’s kind of nice. You realize what it means to be alive, and how close you came to death,” she said.

AP-ES-02-20-08 1440EST

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