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Community members raise $60,000 for Special Olympics in Polar Plunge event

Polar Plunge participants jump into 5-degree waters for Special Olympics on Feb. 17 at O'Kellys and Wayside.

Superheroes, chickens, cows and a giraffe all took the plunge into a pool of frigid water outside of Wayside Central to raise money for Special Olympics Michigan on Feb. 17.

The Polar Plunge fundraiser, which features donors and volunteers jumping into a pool of freezing water, is hosted annually across Michigan. 

With more than 250 jumpers and $60,000 raised by the end of the day, the event didn’t quite match last year’s numbers of more than 400 jumpers and an all-time high of $80,000 raised.

Andrea Rachko, senior development director for Special Olympics Michigan, was disappointed the event didn’t reach its $75,000 goal but said the event still went well.

“It’s still money raised for our athletes, which is the good thing,” she said. 

The temperature outside was around 25 degrees, with the water in the pool  estimated to be a chilly 5 degrees Fahrenheit. For those lucky enough to be in the last group of jumpers, by the end of the event the pool had warmed up to a toasty 6 degrees.

Registration began at 10:30 a.m. inside Wayside Central, with participants and spectators chatting nervously while in various costumes and outfits — among them were several people dressed as chickens, a pig, a cow, Batman, Elmo and the Cookie Monster.

The jumpers were split into several groups in order to keep the event running smoothly, with the first group starting to jump at 11 a.m.

Many spectators in the front row had to back up after getting splashed from cannon-balling plungers. 

Rachko said Polar Plunge and similar events are important because they help raise money for more than 23,000 individuals with intellectual disabilities across the state who participate in Special Olympics Michigan. 

The Polar Plunge alone is responsible for raising $1.15 million yearly across 28 events in Michigan. 

Mount Pleasant resident Teresea Kauppi, a regular volunteer at the Special Olympics, came to watch her fiancé Dustin Looman take the plunge. Kauppi said the Special Olympics is a great organization for helping individuals with intellectual disabilities.

“I work at the summer games," Kauppi said. "Working with the Olympians and seeing how much happiness there is and the inclusion of everyone is amazing."

After the plunge, jumpers changed inside Wayside Central, dried off and ate pizza. Once the last jumpers had taken the plunge at 12:30 p.m., awards were handed out to teams and people who raised the most money and had the best costumes.

For Sterling Heights junior Jacklyn Burnett, this was the second time being a jumper after participating in last year's event. She said this year’s jump was a little colder than last year’s, when it was about 60 degrees outside.

“We had a group of 18 (sorority) sisters do the plunge this year,” Burnett said. “It’s really close to our hearts.”

Rachko said the event might be a little different next year. One proposed idea was there being two plunges, with one taking place in the morning for families and one taking place at night for students. The night plunge would cater more to a student atmosphere, she said.

Rachko said she’s taken the plunge herself around 10 times across the state. She didn’t take the plunge in Mount Pleasant because she was helping manage the event, but said that she will most likely take the plunge in Detroit next week. 

To those nervous to take the plunge, Rachko said that it’s all nerves and it’s definitely worth the experience.

“It’s only five seconds,” she said. “Once you’re done, you’re glad you did it. It’s something different that not a lot of people do. It’s a great event and it’s something you can say you’ve done.”