Polar Plungers brave icy waters to raise money for Special Olympics.
Seems kind of crazy to jump into a body of water in the dead of winter, doesn’t it? Sure, we’re Minnesotans and accustomed to the cold, but that doesn’t mean we think jumping into a freezing lake is fun. Unless, of course, we’re talking about the yearly ritual that is the Polar Plunge.
The Polar Plunge is held at lakes across the state to raise money for the Special Olympics. Individuals and teams register online to raise money through pledges before spending a chilly afternoon throwing themselves into a frozen lake. Last year, more than 900 people in Maple Grove took part in raising $190,000 at Fish Lake.
Mark Peiler, a St. Michael resident, and Mitchen Kelly, a Maple Grove resident, are veteran polar plungers with similar background stories.
Peiler and Kelly each have a child with Down syndrome, and take part in the plunge to celebrate their own children, as well as all kids with disabilities. Peiler began plunging in 2010 when his 5-year-old son Charlie was born. Every year, his team chooses a costume theme. They began with themes based on famous Charlies (in honor of his son), including “Charlie’s Angels” (in 2009) and “Charlie’s Sheens” (in 2012). As “Charlie’s Angels,” the guys wore wigs and dresses for the plunge, and as “Charlie’s Sheens” they each chose a character Charlie Sheen had played as an actor.
In 2013, with the team growing and “Charlie” themes harder to come by, Peiler renamed the team “Chillin’ for Charlie.” In 2014, they expanded to 17 participants and everyone dressed in ‘80s costumes.
Costumes help make the event fun. Kelly and her team, Common Senseless (named after the insurance company Kelly owns called Common Sense Insurance) started in 2012 and wear green for their plunge; they decided to stick plungers on their heads last year for a little extra flair.
“It’s hard having kids with special needs, but when you come to something like this, you feel like people care,” says Kelly, whose daughter Shea is now 13.
The event is particularly special for Kelly because her daughter has been a gymnast in the Special Olympics for four years. Many of Shea’s friends and classmates also come out to support and help raise money for all the Special Olympics athletes.
When it comes to actually taking the plunge, the best thing is to not psyche yourself out. “It’s not as bad as a person builds it up in their mind,” Peiler assures. “You’re in and out of the water for all of a few seconds, and the people who run the event do a great job with the hot tubs or heated tents, so you get out of the water and hop in to warm up for a few minutes.”
It took time for Kelly to jump in. She had been pledging for years and decided, “It was time to put my money where my mouth is.” Now that she has plunged, and brought friends into the mix, it has become a can’t-miss event.
“It is a really exhilarating feeling when you jump in,” she says. “You can’t really prepare for it, but once you do it, you’re kind of hooked. Everyone who does it keeps coming back because it is such a cool event.”
2015 Polar Plunge
11 a.m.–1 p.m. check-in; plunge begins at 1 p.m.
Fish Lake Regional Park
14900 Bass Lake Road