The ice has finally melted from many of Minnesota’s lakes and rivers. That not only means spring is here, but that Minnesota’s Polar Bear Plungers may finally be able to feel their fingers and toes. The 17th year of the Polar Bear Plunge wrapped up in March. Statewide, 17,748 volunteer plungers raised more than $3.7 million for Special Olympics Minnesota. Of that amount $1.3 million came from Minneapolis Plunge activities. The event at Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis included a 5K run, adult and peewee children’s plunges, fireworks and other fun events.
Special Olympics Minnesota offers children and adults with intellectual disabilities year-round sports training and competition. While those events rely extensively on volunteers, fundraising is needed so athletes can compete.
Much funding comes from the Polar Bear Plungers, who make their jumps into icy lakes in the name of charity The number of plunge participants stayed about the same in 2014, said event spokesperson
Taylor Dale. But the number of pledges went up. Dale joked that it might be because of the recording-breaking cold winter brought record breaking donations. People may have felt sympathy for the plungers and given more.
The Polar Bear Plunge is the most high-profile of the fundraising events. People representing organizations, business or just themselves jump into frigid water to support Special Olympics athletes. Many plungers don silly costumes. Bumble bees, fairies, funny critters and even Elvis impersonators take their turns jumping into frigid waters.
The Polar Plunge this year consisted of 16 different events that took place across Minnesota during the coldest months of the year. From January through March, the Plunge crew traveled the state to raise funds for Special Olympics Minnesota.
Participants raise a minimum of $75 before taking the plunge. Many jump as part of a group, representing a family, organization or business. Others plunge as individuals. The money raised supports the more than 7,800 Special Olympics Minnesota athletes. The first plunge took place at Como Lake in St. Paul in 1998. Its 65 participants raised $20,000. In 2005, 100 plungers raised $275,000 at five locations. By 2008, Minnesota had 11 plunges, featured 2,500 participants, and raised $725,000. Just two years after that, in 2010, the Polar Bear Plunge took place in 13 different locations, included over 7,000 participants, and raised $1.4 million.
The organizers hope to add a few more plunge locations in 2015, but nothing is set yet, Dale said. The fundraising is led by the Law Enforcement Torch Run, through which law enforcement personnel and their partners from across the state raise funds and awareness for Special Olympics Minnesota all year round. About $3 million was raised last year.
Golf tournaments, fun runs and other activities are also part of the Special Olympics support system. One upcoming event is Wednesday, April 16 at Coffman Memorial Union at the University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus. Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity and the University of Minnesota Police Department work together to host the day-long annual Jail ‘n Bail fundraiser to benefit Special Olympics Minnesota. Established in 1995, Jail ‘n Bail is now the largest philanthropic event held by a University of Minnesota student organization. Students, faculty, staff and community members can register to be mock prisoners online. Prisoners can send their friends mock arrest warrants via email to ask them to become prisoners as well. Prisoners then solicit dollars from everyone they know to help them make bail, which is donated to Special Olympics Minnesota. Learn more about this event and other fundraisers here.