Editor's Note: Subzero temps can't dampen Polar Plunge

So, it was pretty cold over the weekend. But that didn’t stop thousands and thousands of people from jumping into bodies of water as part of the Polar Plunge for Special Olympics.

I attended a Plunge for one of our sister papers. The weather conditions were so unfavorable, organizers opted to move the event from a lake to the county fairgrounds, where the local fire department set up holding tanks about 3 or 4 feet high and filled them with water.

I didn’t get any photos quite as great as the images circulating the web of late night host Jimmy Fallon, who took the Polar Plunge in Chicago  and made the kind of face that says “holy cow, that’s cold” without saying an actual word.

One of the plungers, taking her sixth plunge for Special Olympics, confided that as brutally cold as it was – about 6 degrees, with a steady wind blowing at about 15 below – going to the lake would have been worse.

“Then they have to break through the ice,” she said.

A friend of my sister-in-law, also a veteran plunger, said he has seen organizers bust through frozen lakes with a backhoe and run an air hose into the water to prevent it from freezing again. It’s so rare that a Polar Plunge would be canceled or postponed due to the weather that last week, an organizer  said there wasn’t even a planfor if the weather was too severe.

It was a pretty fascinating spectacle. I had been told that sometimes people just dip a toe in to say they’ve done it, but I didn’t see any of that. All of the plungers I saw went in at least up to their waists, and plenty of them belly-flopped to go completely under.

And the thing is, they were so excited to do it. Before the plunge began, I edged through a jam-packed building, shoulder-to-shoulder with hundreds of people, all of whom seemed to be happy, excited, and raring to go. They couldn’t wait to step into the cold wearing their swim trunks and T-shirts, and were even more excited about the hop into the cold water tank.

“Being in the water isn’t bad; it’s coming out that stinks,” one plunger told me.

Well, yeah, I can imagine when your wet shirt is freezing stiff between the tank and the changing room, that wouldn’t feel too good.

After the plunge was done, none of the good spirits appeared dampened, if you’ll pardon the pun.

“It’s fun, and it’s for a great cause,” a teenage girl making her second plunge told me.

“I don’t know why I keep doing it, but something just keeps drawing me back,” another woman said. “I just know I’m going to do it every year.”

So why do they do what they do? Well, according to Special Olympics Illinois, last year’s plunges raised $1.7 million. Over the last 15 years, Polar Plunges have raised more than $10 million to support our state’s Special Olympians.

And that’s worth a chill.


The article “Series boosts cultural understanding” in the Feb. 19 edition of The MidWeek contained an error. Kishwaukee College hosted a total of 14 Muslim Journeys events. The MidWeek regrets the error.

Loading more