Annual Polar Plunge fundraising event finds a way to succeed online

Through difficulty comes innovation.

While there’s no replacing the thrill of gathering in a crowd and cheering on friends and family as they dive into a pool of freezing water in the middle of winter, Special Olympics Michigan has devised new ways to pull off their annual Polar Plunge fundraiser.

While COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the traditional Polar Plunge event — which would have installed a pool in the parking lot of the O’Kelly’s-Wayside complex — Special Olympics Michigan has moved the event online, encouraging participants to share photos and videos of their own Polar Plunges from home.

The fundraiser otherwise operates in a manner similar to years past. Individuals or teams raise donations for Special Olympics Michigan, finding sponsors for their cold-weather feats of bravery.

Not being able to provide safety professionals for a decentralized event, the organization is discouraging people from jumping in pools. Instead, they ask that participants get creative — maybe get sprayed with a hose while standing in the snow or enjoy a cocktail in a kiddie pool.
Photo Courtesy of Special Olympics Michigan
“We’re promoting whatever people feel safe doing,” says Andrea Rachko, Law Enforcement Torch Run Liaison and Senior Development Director for Special Olympics Michigan. “Go take the plunge and send us the photos and videos. If you raise funds, we’ll still award incentives at the end of the year.”

Rather than compete locally this year, participants are competing against teams from across the state. Awards will be given out on the basis of funds raised through February but the event itself runs through March and incentives will be honored accordingly.

Also new this year is a virtual Frozen 5K run. More than 750 people have participated thus far.

It’s been so popular, Rachko says, that the Frozen 5K will become an annual tradition along with the Polar Plunge.

“We’re really excited to for sure know that we’re adding this 5K component,” she says.

Visit Special Olympics Michigan online to learn more about participating in this year’s virtual Polar Plunge and Frozen 5K events.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.