Students take plunge for Special Olympics

Kayla Kienzle

Each spring, as one of the last competitions during Greek Week, participants get “freezin’ for a reason” as they take the Polar Bear Plunge into Lake LaVerne for Special Olympics Iowa. This year was the 15th consecutive year Iowa State has held the event. According to the community service director for Greek Week, only greeks participated in this year’s event.

In order to take part in the fundraiser, students participating must raise at least $50. This year, 13 teams totaling more than 1,000 participants went above and beyond the minimum. More than $92,000 was raised this year to go toward supporting Special Olympics.

Each year, after Greek Week Olympics, fraternity and sorority members run home before they begin the mad rush to Lake LaVerne. Members return to their respective houses to find suitable clothing that will withstand the chills and dirt that lie within one of Iowa State’s most popular landmarks. However, there is one catch: the get-up must match the team’s Greek Week theme.

Upon arriving to the Memorial Union to check in, people are able to spot the costumes plungers wear. Tutus on men are popular. Trash bags, duct tape and foil are all famously fashionable pieces for entrance into the lake.

After check-in, groups begin to line up along the path that circles around Lake LaVerne. Music plays while preparation for the dive begins. Some decide to stay back and watch the others. Loud chants often lead up to a team’s descent into the muggy water.

Polar Bear Plunge participants dive, swim, sink, fall, splash, run and walk into the lake. A team of expert divers awaits swimmers, as each individual has to reach the line of divers in order for their plunge to count. The process is quick, as many want to get the plunge over with as soon as possible.

Soaked contestants sprint out of the lake and often all the way home, not stopping until a shower is in sight. Others politely clear the path, not wanting to be touched. Shoes, clothing and towels are all left behind, that is if they are not lost in the lake. While the plunge is definitely an “experience,” most students have another reason they support the cause.

“I did stuff for Special Olympics in high school and realized the importance of the organization,” said Kellie Morrissey, senior in management and a community service co-chairwoman for Greek Week.

Morrissey said she pushed many in her chapter and its pairing to participate.

“We get points, but it’s nice knowing that we are capable of doing something for a greater good and having fun, even if I do lose a shoe or two,” Morrissey said. “It’s definitely worth it, especially when you hear how much money we raised. It’s almost unbelievable and makes you feel really good.”

During the wait to enter the lake, athletes from Special Olympics share their stories and how Polar Bear Plunge has enabled them to participate. Special Olympics helps those with intellectual disabilities become physically fit, productive and respected members of society through sports training and competition.

According to their website, in Iowa, Special Olympics serve about 11,000 Iowans with intellectual disabilities, participants and Unified Sports. Athletes are able to compete at state, national and international levels.