Southeast Missouri State University student publication

Polar Plunge volunteers go all-in for Special Olympics with first year in new location

Monday, February 10, 2020
"Plungers" gather in line, assigned by heat number, to head into the waters for Special Olympics at the Cape Girardeau County Park North lake on Feb. 1.
Photo by Clayton Hester
"Plungers" gather in line, assigned by heat number, to head into the waters for Special Olympics at the Cape Girardeau County Park North lake on Feb. 1.
Photo by Clayton Hester

It was a warm day for the annual Polar Plunge benefiting Southeast Missouri chapter of Special Olympics, but participants still felt the familiar chill.

The chilly dip took place on Feb. 1 at the Cape Girardeau County Park North lake. During the plunge, volunteers raced into the water to show their support for Special Olympics athletes. In order to take the plunge, participants had to raise $75 to participate and be at least 10 years old. Many plungers wore costumes, varying from “Guardians of the Galaxy” to vikings to astronauts, with some adding toilet plungers to their outfits, either in-hand or on-head.

Local Special Olympics Development Director Penny Williams said the funds raised at the event benefit the Special Olympics program in all its general operations.

“It gives them an opportunity to train and to compete,” Williams said. “It buys uniforms and pays for travel expenses [and meals]. They get awards, it builds confidence — all the things that the program goes for, that’s what this fundraiser benefits.”

Special Olympics athletes, Williams said, are “a wonderful asset to our community, and it’s so important that we provide opportunities for them to get to excel.”

Because of the new location, sand was brought in for the event. A small ring was set up in the water where the plungers rushed in, supervised by a few monitors to ensure safety.

The background and motivation for the participants ranged from families to high school student councils to businesses.

Williams said Special Olympics athletes were on-site as well, and donations were accepted at the event and merchandise was available for purchase. In the case of an accident or in-lake emergency, divers and first responders were present for the Saturday event.

Groups were assigned heat numbers, and each group was judged by a panel. Afterward, the groups went to the Century Casino Cape Girardeau, where the best team and individual plunger would be awarded.

Participant Mike Alford plunged with a team called Cathy’s Crew, who had gone with the Guardians of the Galaxy theme. Alford said he took the plunge for his stepson’s 11th birthday, which was the day after the event.

“He’s just a good kid,” Alford said.

All his stepson wanted for the event was to plunge, but it wasn’t Alford’s first time braving the cold: he raised money and plunged last year as well.

Fredericktown, Missouri, high school student Lidia Myers braved the waters with the other officers of her student council. She said one member was able to raise $500 for the cause.

“I live with a Special Olympics athlete, and I know the athletes really enjoy being able to do it,” Myers said.

KZIM KSIM radio host Faune Riggin hosted the event as “the Voice of Special Olympics.” Her grandson has special needs, and she hopes he will one day compete in the Special Olympics.

“It is our largest fundraiser that we do,” Williams said. “We service 1100 athletes.”

The Special Olympics Missouri website lists the Southeast Area Special Olympics as serving Bollinger, Butler, Cape Girardeau, Carter, Dent, Dunklin, Iron, Madison, Mississippi, New Madrid, Oregon, Pemiscot, Perry, Reynolds, Ripley, Scott, Shannon, St. Francois, St. Genevieve, Stoddard, Washington and Wayne counties.

The funds raised at the event benefit the upcoming events from Special Olympics in Southeast Missouri. Additionally, the Special Olympics will often conduct screenings for their athletes as well as other medical functions. They managed to exceed their fundraising goal, reaching $48,000 as of Monday, Feb. 3.