Frosty Fun

Area residents to take ‘Polar Plunge’
to raise money for Special Olympics

Annual event has quickly become popular

By Tess Worrell
Contributing Writer

VERSAILLES, Ind. (February 2013) – Like many high school freshmen, Jacob Eldridge loves his sports. He participates in basketball, softball, cross country and track and field. As a Special Olympics athlete, Eldridge looks forward to the team spirit, staying healthy, and learning new skills as he participates in a wide variety of programs. “What I like most, though, is the fun you can have,” says Eldridge.
Eldridge has participated in Special Olympics for four years. Those years have allowed him to learn a variety of new skills including how to be part of a team. “I’ve learned it’s not about winning. It’s about making friends and having fun,” he says. Special Olympics offers this experience to all students with disabilities – and all for free.

Polar Plunge

Photo provided

Participants race into the
chilly water at Versailles State Park
during last year's Polar Plunge.

To pay for the programs, Special Olympics seeks funding from a variety of sources, including a local favorite event, the Polar Plunge.
The sixth annual Polar Plunge takes place Saturday, Feb. 16, at Versailles State Park in Versailles, Ind. Proceeds will benefit Special Olympics of Ripley, Ohio and Dearborn counties. Participants raise a minimum of $75 in pledges, gather to register between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m., then plunge into the Versailles State Park lake at 2 p.m. Immediately after, participants gather at a huge heated tent for the After Splash Bash.
For those desiring a less frigid option, the event also features a Polar Climb, participants raise a minimum of $35 and register at 10 a.m. for either a 3K walk or 5K run beginning at 11 a.m. They are also invited to watch the Plunge and stay for the Bash.
Despite frigid temperatures, Greg Townsend, Volunteer Delegation Coordinator for Ripley, Ohio and Dearborn County Special Olympics, said he expects a great turn-out. “Last year, we had 187 participants and raised nearly $50,000,” says Townsend. “This year we would like to have 200 people take the plunge.” Townsend has volunteered with Special Olympics for more than 20 years and has worked as the coordinator for this event for the last eight.
“Special Olympics needed someone to coordinate the volunteers and focus on fund raising for the three counties, so I began doing that,” says Townsend. “The athletes who participate in Special Olympics do so free of charge. This event helps raise funds to pay for uniforms, fees, equipment, transportation and other expenses related to offering the programs.”
Townsend notes that Indiana will play host to 11 Polar Plunges during February throughout the state. “This is one of our major fund raisers. People love to participate to support Special Olympics.”
Townsend urges participants to also stay for the After Splash Bash. “We have a huge heated tent with vendors, entertainers, and food court. We also offer a variety of prizes. It’s a great time.”
Caz Burdette said he looks forward to another dip in the lake. Burdette and his wife, Denise, coach volleyball for Special Olympics. Burdette has participated in the Plunge every year since it began in 2008. When asked what it is like, Burdette responds that every year is different. “Some years there has been ice on the lake. The Department of Natural Resources had to send people to cut holes in the ice so we could jump in. Another year it was raining so hard, the spectators got as cold and wet as the people who plunged.”
Apparently, last year tops them all. “Though we had a mild winter, the Plunge was on the coldest day of the year. It was COLD. I got out of there in just a few seconds,” says Burdette.
The Indiana Department of Natural Resources has personnel in the lake to ensure participants’ safety. “I usually stay in the water long enough to high-five each of them. Last year, I just got out,” says Burdette, laughing.
Burdette copes with the cold by asking his wife to stand by with a towel for him to wrap in as soon as he comes out of the lake, then he heads straight for the heated tent.
Those interested in participating can go solo or form a team. Sponsors especially encourage schools and safety officers to form teams to compete against each other for fundraising and special prizes. All participants become eligible for special prizes ranging from long-sleeved T-shirts bearing the Polar Plunge logo to coolers, towels, shoulder bags, and pull-overs. Prizes are also awarded for best costume.
To participate, register online at www.soindiana.org for the Versailles Plunge. Participants who so desire can create a page for online pledges as part of their registration. Then participants collect pledges and bring them the day of the event along with a copy of online pledges, if applicable.

• For more information, contact Greg Townsend at (812) 584-6861 or email: g.townsend@soindiana-rod.org.

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