Polar Plunge participants ready to freeze Saturday morning

Erica Kearns/Staff Photographer Mount Pleasant resident Nate Jonaitis takes the plunge into freezing cold water on Feb. 18, 2012 during the Polar Plunge at Rose Pond. Jonaitis raised over $5,000 for Special Olympics of Michigan. His theme was "Man in the shower."

Nearly 20,000 people with disabilities in Michigan have been supported by Polar Plunge participants over the past decade.

The icy jump will be returning to the pond in front of the  Student Activity Center Saturday. The Polar Plunge is a nationwide fundraising event for Special Olympics, and there are more than 22 plunges that take place over the course of the year in Michigan.

So far, nearly 150 people have registered online to jump into the frigid water. Same-day registration begins at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.

"We encourage registering at all times because we want as many people to participate as possible," said Erin Dougherty, marketing and development coordinator for Special Olympics Michigan. "Special Olympics Michigan is a great organization that solely depends on these donations. Our funds that we get from participants are what allow us to run this organization."

The Polar Plunge is the largest-growing fundraiser that Special Olympics Michigan organizes.

Joel Warner, co-coordinator of the Polar Plunge for Special Olympics Michigan, said donations grew by 35 percent last year, and, this year, they are pushing for more.

"Our goal is to raise $1 million this year," Warner said. "We use the money to keep our services free for the athletes and to put on the state and summer games."

It costs $75 to participate in the plunge, and, if you're a participant, you get to attend the after-party at the Wayside Central, 2000 S. Mission St., and get free pizza and beverages.

To make the plunge possible, a hole is cut in the ice by the Isabella Dive Team, which stays in the water to support the jumpers. Warner said individuals are also allowed to jump in pairs of two.

"It's honestly the most fun you can have while freezing your butt off," Warner said.

Dougherty said another fun aspect of the jump is the outrageous costumes participants wear.

A costume contest takes place at 11:30 a.m. Saturday before the plunge to award the zaniest outfit.

Dougherty said the most rewarding part of the Polar Plunge experience is seeing the participants and Special Olympics athletes connect.

"The athletes hand out towels to the participants after they jump in the water, and they are so happy to be there," she said. "These athletes with disabilities experience challenges everyday, so for the community to come together and help us is really amazing"


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