A Splash of Kindness


Polar Plunge brings community together for Special Olympics Michigan


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Kappa Sigma brothers Justin Benson (left), 21, junior, of Westland, and Nick Dalessandro (right), 20, sophomore, of Grand Rapids show off their body paint outside Okelly’s Bar & Grill/Wayside Central, in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, on Saturday, February 18. “It’s for a great cause and our fraternity’s philanthropy,” Dalessandro said.

Mount Pleasant Polar Plunge set a goal to raise $80,000 for Special Olympics Michigan. It would take a community effort and support to reach it.

Alicia Poloski never attended a Mount Pleasant Polar Plunge before Saturday. With this being her senior year, Poloski wanted to go out with a big splash for Special Olympics.

She joined nearly 400 plungers to raise money by braving the cold water to help fund competition costs for Special Olympics Michigan athletes during fall, winter and summer competitions.

After just an hour of jumping and counting, the Polar Plungers reached their goal.

Poloski joined Central Michigan University students as they teamed up with local law enforcement, volunteers and community members in the Wayside Central parking lot Saturday and raised $80,000 for Special Olympics Michigan.

Money raised for the Mount Pleasant Polar Plunge is the highest-ever for the event in its history.

Plungers exited Wayside Central before 11 a.m. and waited in line to walk up the steps onto the deck of the pool. The water below them sat at about 58 degrees Fahrenheit, said Sgt. Rich Clark of the Mount Pleasant Fire Department.

Special Olympics Michigan set a goal of $80,000 for its 2017 Mount Pleasant Polar Plunge. Entering Saturday with about $60,000, the community united to raise more than $79,000 after the event Saturday. It was reported later Saturday that the event reached its goal.

Special Olympics Michigan Development Manager Heather Fox said there are 25 Polar Plunge events in the state of Michigan this year, and they expect to raise more than $1 million in total. Participants raise money to benefit more than 23,000 athletes who participate in Special Olympics Michigan events each year.

Plungers organized into teams and raised money, which is recorded on the First Giving website. For every plunger who raises $75, two athletes compete in the games for free, said Jenison senior Hannah Rickers.

It was 60 degrees in Mount Pleasant, which was the warmest of three Polar Plunges for Rickers, the chair of the Polar Plunge Student Committee.

“It’s a great feeling seeing everyone come out and being so excited and supportive of the plunge,” Rickers said. “It’s really exciting until you’re about to jump off the platform. Then you get a little bit of the nerves and everything.”

Taleen Markarian | Freelance Photographer | Central Michigan Life

Jumping for the Program Board at Central Michigan University, Angie Distelrath (right), 20, junior, and Olivia Franklin, (left), 18, freshman, splash into the pool outside Okelly’s Bar & Grill/Wayside Central, in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, on Saturday, February 18. “I have never done it before and wanted to before I graduate,” Distelrath said. “I am a part of the Special Olympics college here on campus and a volunteer at the games, so I have a great passion for it.”

Participants registered inside Wayside Central at 10 a.m. where T-shirts, bagels and drinks were available. The west side of the bar featured designated changing stations for plungers.

Mount Pleasant graduate student Jeremy Heinlein kicked off the event at 11 a.m. Heinlein announced the event for the second-consecutive year.

Heinlein announced that the Hunter family, which owns Wayside Central and O’Kelly’s Sports Bar & Grill, received a statewide sponsorship excellence award from the Law Enforcement Torch Run, who help put on the event. Fox said the Law Enforcement Torch Run is a group of officers around the state who raise money for Special Olympics Michigan year-round.

Taleen Markarian | Freelance Photographer | Central Michigan Life

Nikki Wattles, 20, junior smiles with the rest of Gus Macker team after jumping in the pool for the Polar Plunge challenge outside Okelly’s Bar & Grill/Wayside Central, in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, on Saturday, February 18. “This is Gus Macker’s first year being a part of the Polar Plunge,” Wattles said. “We wanted to make a statement and be a part of a great cause for Special Olympics.”

After sponsors were introduced, Heinlein read the names of participants as they plunged into the pool.

Many CMU organizations decided to take on the plunge. Representatives from Program Board and the Leadership Institute were among the CMU groups involved.

Several members of Greek Life took the plunge. Delta Phi Epsilon had 13 members, who formed two teams and raised about $600, said members Grand Ledge sophomore Colleen Simon and Elk Rapids freshman Dani Donahue.

Plungers jumped for about an hour, ending with an awards ceremony inside Wayside Central.

Wesley’s Warriors won the award for most money raised. The Leadership Institute won for most money raised from a registered student organization.

Remus resident Laurie Byberg, a member of Wesley’s Warriors, won the award for most money raised by an individual — raising about $4,600. Wesley’s Warriors raised about $10,000, winning the award for a third year in a row.

Byberg’s grandson Wesley, who just turned six, has Down syndrome. He has participated in Special Olympics Michigan throughout his life. Byberg has taken the plunge every year and is happy others in the community are following suit.

“It’s a good feeling to be able to help these kids out,” Byberg said. “They deserve it.”

Paul Aclibon | Central Michigan Life

Poloski said she enjoys the fact that this event raises so much money and is located here in Mount Pleasant.

“It is really awesome that everyone comes out on a Saturday morning and comes to hangout or jumps for a good cause,” Poloski said.

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About Evan Sasiela

Evan Sasiela is the University Editor at Central Michigan Life and a senior at Central Michigan ...

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