Plunging into frigid waters to support Special Olympics
Every February at Foster Arend Park, they come as groups and alone, in costumes and swimsuits, as coworkers and friends. They all have the same plan: a bone-chilling plunge into an icy lake to raise money for Special Olympics Minnesota.
Kevin Torgerson organized and founded the first Polar Bear Plunge in Rochester in 2002, with 25 plungers pledging to take the jump for charity.
“We decided we wanted to make a splash, and, hey, we could do this,” says Torgerson. Since then, the Plunge has grown steadily in numbers and popularity, and in 2012, over a thousand people pledged and plunged, raising over $250,000 for Special Olympics, which provides year-round sports training and competition for children and adults with disabilities.
“No matter what, no matter the weather, the Plunge is there,” says Torgerson. “We’ve got paramedics on site. No matter how cold it gets, we will never call it off.”
The event is well-staffed, with Rochester law enforcement organizing the event, Special Olympics Minnesota supplying tents, volunteers and supplies, a dive team in the water for safety, and volunteer medics, doctors, and first responders from Mayo Clinic on site.
The event is fun and light-hearted for all. Plungers must collect pledges and raise a minimum of $75 in order to jump into the frosty lake. Although most of the icy adventurers go only once, there are the Super Plungers. These dedicated souls (no more than ten per year) jump into the lake 24 times in 24 hours, starting the day before the official plunge and going through the night. After the jump, plungers get their choice of hot tub or sauna to mitigate the cold shock.
Pledgers that don’t want to jump but still want to support the event may watch from on-site bleachers facing the water or via live footage of the event from local bars such as Whistle Binkies North or the Wicked Moose.
Anne MacGillivray, a longtime Special Olympic athlete participating most recently in cross-country skiing and swimming, has plunged every year since 2003.
“Her favorite part of the Plunge is collecting pledges,” laughs Anne’s mother, Arlysse. “She has sheets of names that she draws upon every year, and she goes door to door collecting donations. Nobody is a stranger, and it’s all small donations. Piece by piece, it adds up. She asks, ‘Are you going to jump with me? You either pledge, or you plunge!’”
Every year Anne scouts to find new friends to jump with her, no matter how doubtful they are about the Plunge.
You just have to do it and get it over with,” says Anne. “I’ve made it this far; so can you. Just come on down and try it!”
So grab a friend, organize some coworkers, and do what you have to do to make your way to the Plunge, February 9, 2013, at Foster Arend Park. For more information, to see pictures from previous years’ events or to register, visit polarplungemn.org.