Volunteer efforts allow Special Olympics athletes to compete
About 23,000 Special Olympics Michigan athletes are given the opportunity to participate in fall, winter and summer competitions because of the Polar Plunge.
Jenison senior Hannah Rickers is the chair of the Polar Plunge Student Committee. She has volunteered at the Special Olympics Michigan competitions seven times – three each at the fall and winter competitions and one at summer.
“It’s a great experience to see all the athletes in action and really competing,” Rickers said.
Nearly 400 students and community members took the plunge, jumping into cold water Saturday at the Mount Pleasant Polar Plunge at Wayside Central. Through fundraising efforts, the event raised its goal of $80,000.
Jeremy Heinlein is a Mount Pleasant graduate student and announcer for the Mount Pleasant Polar Plunge.
“We try to make sure no cost is put on the athletes,” Heinlein said. “Fundraisers like the Polar Plunge help take away from any of those costs.”
There are 25 Polar Plunges throughout Michigan, said Special Olympics Michigan Development Manager Heather Fox. The events combined raise about $1.1 million for Special Olympics Michigan.
Participants raise $75 to participate in any plunge, according to the Special Olympics Michigan website. Rickers said every time $75 is raised, two athletes can compete in the Special Olympics games for free.
Local police also play a pivotal part in putting on the event. Law Enforcement Torch Run is a grassroots fundraising effort in which law enforcement officers raise funds and awareness for athletes, according to the Special Olympics Michigan website.
The Central Michigan University Police Department, Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribal police and the Isabella County Search & Rescue Dive Team were among members of local law enforcement in attendance Saturday.
Sgt. Tim Swanson works with the Isabella County Sheriff’s Department and is in charge of the dive team. When the Polar Plunge was located at Rose Pond, Swanson and his team cut ice holes to make the event safe for participants.
The growing number of plungers forced the event to move to Wayside Central in 2015. This year, Swanson only had to rely on one diver, Sheriff’s Deputy Todd Graham, to stay in the pool to help out the plungers.
Swanson said police, fire and safety units in the area come together to support Special Olympics Michigan each year, making it more of a community event.
“It’s the camaraderie and support for Special Olympics we have in the community,” Swanson said. “Of course with CMU and the Special Olympics (Michigan) office (in town), it’s a good central headquarters.”
Heinlein said seeing sponsors such as CMU and the Hunter family, who own Wayside Central and O’Kelly’s Sports Bar & Grill, making a commitment to the Plunge is “refreshing and exciting.”
“It’s knowing there are so many members, faculty, staff and students on campus that are committed to making this community a better place and helping others,” he said.