For 20 years, the Polar Bear Plunge has supported Special Olympics athletes across the state of Illinois, raising millions of dollars and drawing more than 8,000 plungers annually from downtown Chicago to Carbondale.
Tracing its humble beginnings to Lake Bluff, Ill., the first Polar Plunge was attended by 150 plungers and brought in $34,000. As of 2015, $2.25 million was raised statewide at an additional 22 Illinois locations. Brought to Galesburg’s Lake Storey in 2003, several Knox students will be participating this year in the Plunge on Feb. 25, accumulating funds for entrance fees as well as general donations towards the Special Olympics.
Senior Errol Kaylor will be plunging for Knox this year for the first time, attending the event as a member of the Student Athletic Advisory Committee along with six other student athletes from Knox.
“I am really excited . . . I think the Special Olympics is a really important thing . . . and Knox doesn’t have a lot of opportunities to partner with the Special Olympics, so this is a way that we figured we could,” Kaylor said.
As of Feb. 20, the Knox College SAAC has raised over $1,000 from their seven participants, contributing to the current $16,130 raised throughout Galesburg by over 200 other residents.
“SAAC is participating in the Polar Plunge because it’s a great way to support the Special Olympics,” Kaylor said. “I think that our team this year is mostly people from SAAC, so we have representatives from six or seven different teams [from Knox].”
Before the plungers hit the water, they are each required to raise $100 in order to participate. For the past few weeks, plungers from Knox have been fundraising non-stop in preparation for Sunday’s big event. “There’s a lot of support from friends and family. Also, some staff help. [Most of my funds] came from . . . [fundraising through] Facebook.”
At Knox’s Beta Theta Pi fraternity chapter, Polar Plunge is an opportunity for active and new members to engage in philanthropy through their fraternal organization. Walter Wood, sophomore and philanthropy chair for Beta Theta Pi, says that the house will be bringing as many as 20 members to Lake Storey this year.
“As far as I know, [participating in Polar Plunge] has been a tradition that’s been going on for a while,” Wood says. “And just recently, we’ve been trying to get more active participation . . . Right now, we’ve got 19 people registered. We have a decent mix of actives and new members.”
While participation in the Polar Plunge is not mandatory for house members, Wood and Beta Theta Pi President and junior Malik Hamilton hope that one day, attending the event will garner increased member involvement.
“As of now, it’s optional. We want to have it so everyone participates, but we’ll see how that goes . . . It’s a lot of fun,” Hamilton comments. “There’s been a huge increase [in member participation since last year]. I think we had a total of maybe eight to 10 [last year].”
Beta Theta Pi is currently in third place for fundraising for the big event, according to Wood.
“We’re right behind the Law Enforcement team . . . and the team that’s actually been spearheading the program, so we’re not doing bad this year,” he said.
To donate to Special Olympics Illinois in support of the Polar Plunge, go to www.soill.org/polar-plunge/, and to donate to the Knox SAAC or Beta Theta Pi Polar Plunge teams, search for either team on the SOILL website.
The Special Olympics will be held July 1 through July 6 in Seattle.