The cold water is calling.
And more than 100 brave souls from throughout Johnson County and beyond are ready to answer with enthusiasm.
Hundreds of supporters of Special Olympics Indiana are steeling themselves for an annual tradition like no other – the Polar Plunge. On Feb. 4, athletes, local families, individuals, business owners and anyone else who backs the organization will gather at Dye’s Walk Country Club for a dip into a freezing cold pool set up on the course.
Despite the chilly fate that awaits participants, they happily come out in order to raise money ensuring Special Olympics continues offering opportunities for more than 16,000 children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
“Special Olympics has done a lot for me in my life. It gives me a chance to play sports that I wouldn’t be able to play in high school,” said Chelsea Davis, a Special Olympics athlete and longtime participant in the Polar Plunge. “The money we raise from the Polar Plunge helps pay for equipment and travel expenses so we all can play.”
The Polar Plunge has been a primary fundraiser for Special Olympics Indiana for the past 24 years. Across the state, communities host events, as participants raise money for the privilege of submerging in cold water.
All funds benefit Special Olympics athletes throughout Indiana, making sure that children and adults with intellectual disabilities can participate in the state’s sports, health, education and leadership programs at no cost.
“Those funds go directly into our operating budget to provide the competitions for the athletes, the tournaments we run,” said Kevin Aders, central regional manager for Special Olympics Indiana and local organizers of the Greenwood Polar Plunge. “We do not charge our athletes to participate in Special Olympics, so everything is either donated or fundraised to cover the costs of putting together and hosting an event.”
To date, the Polar Plunge has generated more than $10 million for Special Olympics Indiana.
People must raise at least $85 to take part. This year, 15 events will be held across Indiana from Jan. 28 through March 4, with more than 3,000 people anticipated to take the plunge this year.
Greenwood has been hosting a Polar Plunge since 2019. Already, organizers have about 150 people signed up.
“It’s that challenge to people to do something out of the ordinary, that they wouldn’t normally think of doing for a great cause,” Aders said.
Davis has been a Special Olympics athlete for the past 25 years, taking part in swimming, bowling, basketball, golf, softball and volleyball, among other sports. She has been a member of the Athlete Leadership Programs, and currently serves as an athlete intern for Special Olympics Indiana, focused on volunteer recruitment.
Each year since 2013, she has taken part in the Polar Plunge as a way to support a program that has given so much to her — even if that means facing the frigid water.
“It’s definitely freezing,” she said. “As you’re gearing up to go in, you’re just standing there outside for a while. Once you jump up, you tell yourself you can do it and jump in.”
While the core of the Polar Plunge is the cold, organizers work hard to make it as comfortable as possible, Aders said. All of the activities before and after the Plunge are held inside the Dye’s Walk clubhouse, so people can build up their courage before facing the cold.
“That keeps everyone excited and enthused,” Aders said.
Participants who raise the $85 minimum receive a commemorative long-sleeved t-shirt, and those who reach higher fundraising levels are eligible for additional prizes, including a metal tumbler, beach towel and more.
For people who want to support the Special Olympics without getting wet, a Virtual Plunge program is available. Those participants receive the same fundraising prizes, and on Plunge day, they can stay warm and dry while cheering on Polar Plunge participants from the deck.
“We encourage costumes, and judge a costume competition for best team, best dressed. We get some really unique ideas for costumes from teams,” Aders said.
This year’s Polar Plunge series is presented by the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Indiana, the largest grassroots fundraising program benefiting Special Olympics, raising tens of millions of dollars each year to support year-round sports training and competition plus health, education and leadership opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities.
Support for the 2023 Greenwood Polar Plunge has also been provided by Cumulus Media.
As an organizer, Aders loves seeing so many people get excited to take part in the annual Polar Plunge. But as a parent of a Special Olympics athlete, it’s moving for supporters to show that enthusiasm so that all athletes can be a part of Special Olympics.
“Seeing people willing to do something this crazy and exciting for our population, for individuals that they may not even know, just really warms my heart,” he said. “It reiterates that there is more good people in society than bad people.”
AT A GLANCE
2023 Polar Plunge
What: An annual fundraiser that gets people together to jump in a cold pool, with proceeds raised by participants supporting Special Olympics Indiana.
When: 11 a.m. Feb. 4; registration is from 9-10:30 a.m.
Where: Dye’s Walk Country Club, 2080 S. SR 135, Greenwood
How to sign up: Go to PolarPlungeIN.org to register in advance and donate to participants. Walk-up registration is available on the morning of the event.