It’s time to take the plunge, Lakers

Courtesy / Special Olympics Michigan

Courtesy / Special Olympics Michigan

Amy McNeel

There are over 20,000 Special Olympic athletes in Michigan alone. Special Olympics, which was founded in 1968, aims to use the power of sports to empower and support those with intellectual disabilities. The organization supports over five million athletes worldwide, and is entirely volunteer and donation driven. 

This Saturday, Feb. 2, residents of west Michigan will have the opportunity to support Special Olympics by participating in the Grand Rapids Polar Plunge. The plunge will take place at 5 p.m. at the Score Restaurant and Sports Bar, with registration starting at 3 p.m. 

The Polar Plunge came to Michigan in 2000, with the first plunge taking place in Saginaw. Since then, the Polar Plunge has raised over $9 million dollars for Special Olympics, and the organization plans to hit the $10 million mark by the end of this season. 

Last year, the Grand Rapids Polar Plunge raised over $75,000. This year, the goal is to raise $80,000. 

“All the proceeds go to Special Olympics Michigan, and what that does is it benefits athletes right here in Kent County and Barry County as well,” said Special Olympics Coordinator of Development and Events Andrew West. “That’s our area that this plunge is going toward – that’s area 11 for Special Olympics Michigan. It pays for everything from jerseys, maybe practice space if we have to pay for that, equipment and all the way up to state-level competitions.”

Special Olympics is provided to all families free of charge, making the program both accessible and inclusive. The organization also has a Healthy Athletes program, which provides athletes with health necessities that they may not be able to afford otherwise, such as shoes that fit, hearing aids and glasses. Special Olympics focuses on the athletes holistically and tries to improve not only their physical health, but also their mental and social health. 

“For a lot of them it’s really life changing because it provides several outlets and also provides a wellness factor for them that they otherwise might not have in their lives,” West said. “From the social aspect it provides the athletes with a really good chance to interact with each other outside of a formal school setting, which is where most of them have interactions with each other. After high school, a lot of the time there isn’t a social network for them, so Special Olympics is able to provide that.” 

The Polar Plunge was created by a group called Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR), which is Special Olympics’ largest public awareness and grass-roots fundraiser. This year, Special Olympics Michigan will partner with LETR for over 30 Polar Plunges, and together they will raise over $1 million dollars. 

Those who take the plunge will not only be helping the Special Olympic community, but they will have the chance to interact with the athletes who they are supporting. 

“I hope people just walk away feeling really, really good about what they did to contribute to our athletes and to Special Olympics Michigan,” West said. “It is one of the most heartwarming things to interact with our athletes and just see how happy they are and how much fun they have at events like this.”

West said that a lot of Special Olympic athletes will be taking the plunge Saturday and he encourages participants to take time to talk with them. 

Preregistration for the event will take place on Friday, Feb. 1 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Score Restaurant and Sports Bar. At this time, there will also be a beer release which will include Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS), Canadian Breakfast Stout (CBS) and Dogfish Head 61 minute and 120 minute IPAs.