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Taking plunge for special athletes

2 shots to take part in Polar Plunge that aids Special Olympics

You take take part in the Special Olympics Polar Plunge on Feb. 11 at Meta County Park or Feb. 18 at Manchester University.

Joshua Schipper

Whatzup Features Writer

Published February 1, 2023

The brave of Allen and Wabash counties will face frigid waters when the Special Olympics Indiana Polar Plunge, the organization’s biggest fundraiser, returns this month.

The Fort Wayne chapter of the organization will hold their Polar Plunge at Metea County Park at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 11, with the Wabash County chapter conducting theirs at noon on Saturday, Feb. 18, outside Manchester University’s Physical Education and Recreation Center.

The challenge is straightforward: Raise at least $85 from family and friends to register, then run into a frozen pond. Those aged 12 and up can register at
polar-plunge or on the day of the event.

Make it a group outing

Jake Pickett, chair of the Plunge in Fort Wayne, told Whatzup that fun is only part of the event, as the money is for a good cause. 

“This allows Special Olympics athletes around the state, including Allen County athletes and all our surrounding county athletes, to participate in Special Olympics at no charge,” he said. “There’s no participation fee, registration fee, or any kind of fees for participating in Special Olympics. It helps cover awards, competitions, uniforms, pretty much everything so that we can get as many people with intellectual disabilities to participate in Special Olympics as possible.”

Participants are encouraged to invite friends to watch from the sideline as they take their damp journey. 

“We encourage them to invite co-workers, invite friends, and invite family,” Pickett said. “We have a nice mix of high schools, colleges, businesses, and nonprofits, even churches, participate with us.

“It’s fun to see competitions between the schools, competition between businesses, and then internal competitions on who can raise the most money.”

He added that the event raised more than $60,000 in 2022, and the aim for this year is $70,000.

Volunteer to change lives

Over the course of the year, you can support Special Olympics Indiana in a less frigid manner. 

“We can always use volunteers at our competitions, at our practices, and at our fundraisers,” Pickett said. “I’ve been involved for more than 15 years, and all it took was one practice. I coached a basketball team. After that first basketball practice that I coached, I was hooked.”

Pickett says he became a track coach, then a softball coach, eventually becoming a “pretty regular volunteer” with the state office and various county programs. 

“We always encourage people to get involved, just go to a competition and watch and cheer on the athletes,” he said. “And, this is not an exaggeration, it changes a lot of lives. You’ll never see a competition with better sportsmanship, with better camaraderie, with better support.”

Body’s response

Pickett noted that while air temperature at the Plunge might be warm enough for a T-shirt, the temperature of the water is “almost guaranteed to be 33 degrees.”

“I’ll never forget the first time I actually took the plunge,” he said. “And just that feeling, obviously a little bit of shock and pain from the cold as we hit the water, but the body is just amazing in how adrenaline takes over.”

He said as soon as he got out of the water, he immediately gave a TV interview where he was actually able to speak coherently. 

“It’s amazing how the body just takes over and your adrenaline gets you through it,” he said. “It’s not nearly as bad as you think it might be.”

‘Year-round, nonstop movement’

Pickett says he is “passionate about the Special Olympics movement, because of how important it is to so many people’s lives. We serve people with intellectual disabilities in a non-judgmental, active, and friendly way. These are sports competitions, but they go beyond that. It’s not competition for the sake of winning and losing. It’s competition for character building, for inclusiveness, for conditioning, and fitness. We want everyone to be active and stay fit.

“Everybody there believes in the power of Special Olympics,” he added. “I think that what people need to know about Special Olympics is it’s not just like a track meet like the Olympics every four years. We have more than 20 sports. We have more than 16,000 athletes in Indiana who do everything from bowling to track and field to basketball to golf to 22 sports. It’s a year-round, nonstop movement. It’s not just an athletic event that happens every four years. We always like to make sure people are aware of that because there’s so many opportunities for volunteering and participation.”

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