Chicago takes the plunge

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Submerge yourself in the ice-cold waters of North Avenue Beach, raise some funds and express your inner fearlessness at Chicago’s 12th Annual Polar Plunge.

This year, more than 2,000 people, many in costumes, are expected to take the ‘plunge’ benefiting the Special Olympics Chicago and Special Children’s Charities, March 4.

Plungers will run in groups of 30 at their chosen start time of: 10 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 11 a.m., or 11:30 a.m. Their five-minute wave experience starts with running down a shoot on the sand, in one direction from North Avenue Boathouse, to jump in the lake. Next, they can splash around or plunge as deep, and as many times as they’d like.

“To date, no one has plunged more than once,” said Susan Nicholl, executive director of the Special Olympics Chicago and Special Children’s Charities.

After braving the wintry Chicago waters, plungers are treated to photo-ops, souvenir t-shirts, warm towels and heated tents to get dressed in. The event concludes with an admission free ‘Melt Down Party’ offering free food and a cash bar.

This national fundraiser started “popping up 12 years ago as a necessary creative way” to fundraise by the Special Olympics organization, said Nicholl.

The event has grown tremendously over the years; from the first event that was attended by 100 well-meaning Chicago Park District employees. Presently, more than half of the event plungers have done it before. The rest are recruited by friends or through word of mouth.

Plungers are required to raise at least $125.

“People always say: ‘You know you’ve always wanted a chance to tell me to go jump in the lake. Well, here is your chance, but you are going to have to pay me.’ It’s kind of a fun feeling,” said Nicholl,

The organizers work well in advance with the Chicago Park District and various city departments planning the event. For the safety of the public, the layout of the event is made public and rules are strictly enforced.

Wrist bands are issued to each plunger. Everyone has to sign waivers and wear shoes when they are heading down the sand, just in case there is ice or debris on the sand, and all groups are accompanied by safety divers. This attention to safety has prevented injuries.

“Everyone is great about following the rules,” said Nicholl. “[They] do it because it gives them a memorable experience. It gives them a lifetime of bragging rights. It’s definitely exhilarating.”

Bus transportation is provided for groups of 20 or more.

“We probably started doing it three years ago, when we realized that it’s a nice reward for people to not worry about where to go and how to get there. They get off the bus, they plunge, they stick around for a great party afterwards and then they get back on the bus. It’s a lot of fun, a lot of fun,” said Nicholl.

Volunteers from schools and other organizations help with the event each year. While other schools have participated, DePaul’s Blue Crew is always there cheering everyone on.

 

“DePaul University has been a major participant in this event. Many sororities at DePaul have done it, as well as Coach Doug Bruno,” explained Nicholl.

The excitement of the event creates a boomerang effect on spectators and participants.

“To look at the spectators is really hysterical because their mouths are open. These are people that probably would never do it, but it’s almost like you could see that it might be on their future bucket list,” said Nicholl. “Their reaction is awe-inspiring because you can see that they know they are watching fun and crazy people doing something for a great cause.”

Last year the event raised $470,000. This year they hope to exceed $500,000. As of Feb. 23, plungers have raised $260,391.

 

“The Polar Plunge is the top fundraising event of the year for Special Olympics Chicago,” said Nicholl. “The day is a fun and inspirational event for those attending. But more importantly, the Chicago Polar Plunge helps to change the lives of more than 5,000 Chicago-area Special Olympians, by providing much of the funding necessary to provide year-round activities, programs and events for our athletes.”

Collectively, the funds raised go a long way in making a vast difference.

“Our numbers are ahead of last year, so fingers crossed,” said Nicholl. “We say that everyone is welcome.”

To make a difference and plunge for the cause, register and set up a personal fundraising page to share with friends and family at www.sochicago.org.

“People can make a safe, secure online donation. It is a tax deductible donation. They automatically get a receipt and a thank you note.” said Nicholl.

Plungers 16 years and older may register individually or as a group. Parental permission is required for anyone under 16 years.

The 2012 Chicago Polar Plunge is supported by: Commonwealth Edison, Microsoft Store, Potash Markets, Phil Stefani Signature Restaurants and Events, and the Score 670AM and WXRT-FM.

Prizes will be awarded for: Top 3 overall fundraisers; Team raising the most funds; Best group costumes; and Top 3 individual costumes

For more information on the Chicago Polar Plunge benefiting Special Olympics Chicago, please call 312-527-3743; or email scc@sochicago.org.