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Polar Plunge at Wayside Central hopes to raise $80,000

The biggest fundraising event for Special Olympics Michigan, the Polar Plunge, will take place Saturday outside Wayside Central.

Registration starts at 10 a.m., with the plunge beginning at 11 a.m.

Volunteers will set up the pool in the Wayside Central parking lot using the frigid water from a fire hydrant. Registration and changing areas will set up inside.

By 11 a.m., people will be soaked from head-to-toe after taking the plunge. After the event, food and music will be available at the After Splash Bash.

There are 455 supporters, 66 teams and 1,160 donations for the event with $49,825 already raised as of 3 p.m. Wednesday, according to the First Giving website.

Andrea Rachko, Special Olympics Michigan senior development director, said the Polar Plunge is the largest fundraising event for Special Olympics. Rachko said the event raised $1.82 million in Michigan last year, and raised $75,000 in Mount Pleasant. This year, Rachko hopes to beat last year’s total and raise $80,000.

Rachko herself has taken the plunge six times.

“It’s the anticipation of the jump that freaks people out,” Rachko said. “The water isn’t actually that bad.”

Money raised goes toward the Special Olympics summer, winter and fall competitions, as well as cutting costs for athletes such as uniforms and transportation. Money goes toward local communities for teams and training for athletes.

Special Olympics Polar Plunge has been held in Mount Pleasant for 10 years. Last year 445 “plungers” jumped for the cause, and this year there are 458 people. People can register until the day of the event at Wayside Central.

Senior Hannah Rickers will be wake up at 6 a.m. to start setting up. Rickers is an intern at the Special Olympics Michigan headquarters and is the student coordinator of Polar Plunge.

“We’re basically advocates for all things Polar Plunge,” Rickers said. “We fundraise and raise awareness for the events as much as possible by talking to student organizations and Greek Life. Hopefully that encourages people to join.”

This is Rickers’ third year plunging. She was the captain for the Leader Advancement Scholars team. Last year she tied for the most money raised by a student with $1,205.

Rickers has volunteered at every game since her freshman year. Her passion for the Special Olympics stems from her experience working in a special education classroom in high school and the friendships she formed there.

In that classroom, she met Kirk, a student with Down syndrome. Kirk became one of Rickers’ best friends and walked with her for graduation.

“I want all people to attend who want to be there and be able to compete,” Rickers said. “Every $75 I raise allows someone to compete.”

For every person that plunges, two athletes get to attend the games free.

Rickers has also raised money to support people with disabilities. She put together a pageant for girls with different abilities. The event raised $2,000.

“We try to say different abilities instead of disabilities because of the negative connotation,” Rickers said. “It’s really important to show that different abilities doesn’t define a person.”