SWIMMERS TAKE A FRIGID PLUNGE TO SUPPORT THE SPECIAL OLYMPICS

When it comes to charity, some people like to give of their time, while others prefer donating clothing or even cash.

But come this weekend, a group of local folks will be donating their body warmth for a good cause.

To raise money for the local chapter of the Special Olympics, people will be taking a dip in icy cold water at the charity’s annual Polar Plunge.

To be held Saturday, Feb. 13 at Matea County Park, 8401 Union Chapel Road, north of Fort Wayne, the Special Olympics Polar Plunge has folks raise money from people who “sponsor” them, then watch as their plungers take a dip into the icy cold waters of Cedar Creek.

“This is the largest and most important fund-raiser of the year for Special Olympics,” said Jake Pickett, the Fort Wayne Polar Plunge Chair. “But it’s events like this one that allow our athletes to compete free of charge. Everything they do is covered; there’s no cost to play.”

Because of health protocols to protect against COVID-19, this year’s plunge will look slightly different from years past, organizers said. No spectators will be allowed at the event, said Pickett, and plungers will be sent into the water in groups every 15 minutes or so to maintain social distancing. Past plunges had large audiences in attendance, and plungers all dove into the water at the same time. The only exceptions to the crowd rule will be minors who need a parent or guardian, or disabled plungers who need a caregiver.

There also will be no pre- or post-event gatherings, as has been the tradition.

To become a plunger, all one has to do is register online at www.soindiana.org/polar-plunge, and raise a minimum of $75 in pledges.

The event has been around for at least 10 years in Fort Wayne, noted Pickett, although it’s been around longer in other spots around the state. All money raised from the event goes to the state group, Special Olympics Indiana, said Donna Hazelett, Allen County coordinator for the Special Olympics.

Pickett noted that events such as the Polar Plunge, in addition to other Special Olympic events, have a tremendously positive impact on the athletes who participate.

“It really changes their outlook on life,” Pickett said. “It changes their attitudes. They become a totally different person from when they first got involved with Special Olympics.”

Last year, Pickett noted, the event raised roughly $53,000 for the agency. The reduced goal this year – because of the COVID restrictions – is to bring in about $30,000.

In 2020, the plunge saw about 250 plungers take part, with a crowd of about 300 to 400 people watching the event, Pickett said.

This year, the agency has crafted two new ways for people to support the cause, as well. Calling these new options the “Virtual Plunge,” the first is a 5K and 10K run on behalf of the Special Olympics, named the Polar Plunge Run. Runners in that race raise money just as they would for the Polar Plunge, getting people to donate money for their participation in the race.

The second new option is a virtual program in which folks can be “an angel for the Special Olympics and earn their wings.” People are encouraged to either dress up like an angel, or make snow angels on the ground, then share a picture of them doing that on social media with the hashtag #EarnedMyWings.

For their efforts, plungers will receive some kind of prize, from mugs and t-shirts, to water bottles, jackets, or beach towels, Hazelett said.

Organizers said they realize the ongoing pandemic has made this a tough year financially for businesses, but they’re encouraging local shops and stores to get involved, nonetheless.

“Special Olympics is encouraging as many businesses, organizations and schools as possible to get involved by putting together teams of plungers (virtual or in-person),” they stated, “or by nominating one lucky person to serve as their Plunge representative and helping them raise funds.”

Hazelett noted that the Plunge not only raises much-needed money for the Special Olympics, but it also gives the athletes a sense of normalcy and inclusion.

“It’s not just about sports,” Hazelett said, “it’s also about making sure these athletes are included with their friends and peers in a larger society.”

For more information about the Polar Plunge, contact the event’s chair, Jake Pickett, at jake_pickett@gmail.com, or by calling Special Olympics at (260) 402-9633.

Michael Morrissey
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Michael Morrissey

Michael is a professional writer and journalist. He attended South Side High School and Northwestern University. He has written for newspapers in Michigan City, Indiana; Pekin, Illinois; and Bradenton, Florida. He also has written for and edited websites in Florida and San Francisco, California. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer