This past weekend, the softball team was freezin’ for a reason. The Special Olympics Polar Plunge began in 1999 and has since raised over $20 million for Special Olympics Wisconsin. The Lawrence University Vikings softball team has been plunging annually since 2014. Tierney Duffy ‘16 got the entire team involved six years ago, and even after she graduated, the team held this opportunity to give back close to their hearts.
Special Olympics Wisconsin has made each event at their 12 locations a hoot and a half. The entire day is a fun-filled and exciting event for all. While the event is centered around those who are jumping into the freezing water, there are also numerous activities for everyone else, such as food and drinks, love music, a 5k, raffles and other events. People around here take this very seriously. A large sum of money is raised to give back to the 18 different Olympic-type sports that are offered year-round, as well as free health care screenings to guarantee optimal health and performance for these athletes during competition. This event gives the opportunity for over ten thousand athletes with intellectual disabilities to go out and experience some fun, be proud of who they are and what they are doing and earn the utmost respect from community members and other Special Olympics athletes.
The team’s goal was to raise $5,000 for this year’s Polar Plunge, and they ended up exceeding their goal. In the last six years, the softball program has raised over $30,000 for Wisconsin Special Olympics. This team is highly committed to their community impact, and that will never change. Senior infielder Rachel Urich personally raised $1,000 this year because her mom encouraged her to do so. “She encouraged me to push my goal up, and realizing that it was probably my last year participating without the team, I wanted to try and raise as much money as I could to support Special OIympics,” said Urich.
Prior to the plunge, Head Softball Coach and Associate Director of Athletics Kim Tatro filmed the team gearing up. While pretty much everyone made a comment on how cold it was, they all said so with huge smiles on their faces and many laughs exchanged. Freshman Shelby Johnson whooped in excitement, smiling ear to ear, but of course this was her first time experiencing this event, so we will have to check back in next year to see if she has the same reaction. Sophomore catcher Ceara Larson was a ball of excitement as the time trickled down to the moment of their jump. This is one of her favorite events of the year. All week long, Larson started pumping everyone up for this awesome moment to give back.
The team made their way to the jumping point clad in a retro uniform and running shorts. The announcer counted them down, commenting on the amazing opportunity for team building, and each player took the leap into the freezing water of Lake Winnebago. Swimming to the steps with cold desperation, the team clambered out and ran to the waiting hot tubs. Urich said, “It means a lot to participate in this event. It’s a great feeling knowing that what we do helps many people involved in Special Olympics.”
Despite the comments on how cold it was, the reaction after the plunge was positive and full of giggles and warm hearts from the act of giving back and doing so together. “I think participating with the team makes us work together to reach a goal of raising a certain amount of money and more importantly while participating in the jump, we support each other and try to keep positive thoughts as we walk up to the platform. It also pushes us individually to commit to participating and not backing out because it’s cold out one year,” said Urich.
The whole event was full of people who are loud and proud of what they are doing for their community. People dress up in costume to match each other and be silly in order to distract from the freezing temperatures. “The whole experience stands out to me,” Urich stated. “The sheer number of people that participate is amazing. The fact that people willingly jump in freezing cold water in February to support such a great program is absolutely admirable.” This event is one of the team’s favorite things to do together, besides playing softball. It is a bonding exercise and brings everyone closer together. The fact that it includes giving back to Special Olympics Wisconsin is just icing on the cake.
If you want to see live footage of before the jump, the actual jump or after the jump, please visit the Lawrence University Softball Facebook page. The polar plunge is a national event that includes running into lakes and oceans, jumping into lakes or anything else that can be modified for different regions. In the 12 locations of Wisconsin, over 2,000 people have plunged this year, impacting over 250 athletes. The team encourages everyone to participate, whether that’s by donating to the cause or “freezin’ for a reason.”