Freezin’ for a reason: Celebrating 50 years of fundraising for Special Olympics Kentucky

Story by Amy Turner, Staff writer

Photo courtesy of Laura Miller

With below freezing temperatures outside, it is no surprise that jumping into a lake in February would be ill-advised. But that is exactly what several devoted individuals will do once again during this year’s Western Kentucky Polar Plunge event for the sake of raising money for a noble cause.

On Saturday, Feb. 18, Peel & Holland’s annual Polar Plunge fundraiser will be held at Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park from 9 a.m. to noon. But this year will be even more special, as they are celebrating 50 years of the continued event and of fundraising for the Special Olympics.

According to soky.org, The Polar Plunge continues to be the most important fundraising event for Special Olympics Kentucky. Last year, the five events combined to raise more than $425,000 for athletes. Having started in July of 1968, they now host a global movement with over 5 million athletes from more than 180 countries.

Locally, Murray’s Special Olympics program has ten sports and 130 athletes. Event coordinator and local Special Olympics Coordinator, Laura Miller, brought the fundraiser to Murray nine years ago after participating in one with some friends from her Murray State days.

Miller said that while the events main objective is to raise money for the cause, her favorite part is getting to end some rumors and falsehoods people believe.

“For me, my favorite part is raising awareness for the Special Olympics,” Miller said. “Many people think it is just for kids or just a one day track event.”

Miller said the Polar Plunge usually averages 300 participants and 1,000 total people, locally. She said the event brings in $98,000 for the organization.

Joshua Skinner from Grand Rivers, Kentucky took the Plunge two years ago. He said he enjoyed the community feel to the event as well as being able to rally together for a noble cause. He said the Polar Plunge really lives up to its name, remembering the bitter cold of the day he participated.

“My favorite part of the event was everyone coming together and seeing the lines of people ready to jump into the water,” said Skinner. “It’s a great experience for a great cause.”

Participants of the fundraiser also have the chance to earn the Triple Crown by running the Polar 5K and taking two different plunges into the lake.

Miller said one of the biggest challenges in running an event such as this is the weather.

She said the Plunge happens rain or shine, warm or freezing cold. Should the temperature drop too low for a safe plunge, then adaptations will be made. One year, participants jumped in a cold inflatable pool in the event parking lot.

According to soky.org, the Special Olympics operate in three different parts. It starts with State Summer Games held in early June. In early July, 45 athletes and 18 coaches will then go to the USA Games. To conclude, the Global Special Olympics 50th Anniversary Celebration will take place on July 17-21.

In order to join in on the Plunge, participants need to either get support or pay $75. Any children choosing to take the challenge have to raise $50.