If folks haven’t had enough of snow, ice and cold, there’s another opportunity to get a frigid fix with the annual Polar Plunge for Special Olympics.
The 2021 Western Kentucky Polar Plunge and Polar 5K will take place on Saturday, March 6, from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. at Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park in Gilbertsville.
This year’s event marks the 12th for Special Olympics Kentucky, which raises funds for the organization that supports athletes of all ages with intellectual disabilities. Last year’s event, which raised approximately $60,000, has the unique distinction of being one of the last activities to take place in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic began closing events across the state and country.
“We were the weekend before the world shut down,” said Western Kentucky Regional Director Laura Miller. “We were literally the last event I think I attended maskless.”
The Polar Plunge begins with participants raising money for Special Olympics. People are asked to raise a minimum of $75 or $50 for those under 18 years old. As a “reward,” they can then take a literal plunge into the cold waters of Kentucky Lake from the park’s courtesy dock.
Miller said people can also run into the water from the beach, or can do the Polar 5K road race. Some do all three as part of a “Triple Crown” challenge.
“That started around five or so years ago. People have the option to plunge or run the 5K or do both. Then we started offering where people could run in from the beach,” she said.
The primary reasoning for the beach plunge portion was to offer Special Olympics athletes an opportunity to participate in the event. “Sometimes navigating that ladder out of the cold water is a little difficult for some of them, so going in with the gradual slope of the beach would be more conducive to their participation,” Miller explained.
Then organizers decided to start the Triple Crown challenge.
“We have people who plunge every year with us so we thought we’d jazz it up so they run the 5K, plunge off the dock and then plunge again by running into the water from the beach,” she added. “When you do all three of our events, you’re literally crowned a Triple Crown champion.”
Miller said Murray State University and several other colleges in Kentucky, such as the University of Kentucky, have raised money doing campus plunges. And if people don’t want to be part of the group event in March, they can also participate in an individual way through a “Personal Plunge.”
Participants can plunge as they wish, Miller said. They can splash in kiddie pool, roll around in any remaining snow or douse themselves with a bucket of ice water. “I told one person they can chill on the couch as long as they’re raising money for our athletes. So the thought is they can video themselves and upload it to social media with the hashtag #chillofalifetime.”
But Miller said she has been seeing more people signing up for the actual in-person event more than the personal one.
“People are ready to get out and being outside in the wide open space, people feel a little more comfortable with it rather than if it were an indoor, small space event,” she added. The Marshall County Health Department has also signed off on the event’s plan.
Miller said fundraisers like the Polar Plunge help with the physical and intellectual aspects of their athletes’ lives that can literally last their entire lifetime.
“Statistics show individuals who participate in Special Olympics have higher self esteem and get employed and feel like valued members of the community,” she said. “Special Olympics has evolved in such a way where we run almost all our programming inclusive so it’s individuals with and without disabilities coming together, and that’s what we strive to promote is inclusive competition and inclusive experiences for our athletes.”