Last year, Chicago’s 14th annual Polar Plunge made national headlines when Mayor Rahm Emanuel dared The Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon to partake. Amidst a series of hilarious tweets and social media call-outs, including a social media campaign #SwimmyFallon, Fallon accepted the dare—and he plunged into the freezing waters of Lake Michigan dressed in his staple talk show outfit—a suit and tie.
The event, which made its way to Chicago in 2001, benefits Special Olympics Chicago. With celebrities like Jimmy Fallon and Mayor Emanuel on board last year, Special Olympics Chicago Executive Director Susan Nicholl says the event was the most successful in Chicago’s history. There were 3,200 participants and over $1 million raised. Nicholl says she hopes that this year the event continues to grow and they reach 4,000 participants. The organization has no confirmation that Fallon will be re-plunging, but they have taken to social media to encourage actor and Lake Forest native Vince Vaughn to take a turn. If you are looking to help support this cause, Special Olympics Chicago is using the hashtag #VinnyDippin.
One of this year’s many confirmed teams, “The Kellogg Ice Crushers,” will come from The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Benjamin C. Dowell, a student at Kellogg, will be participating on the team for his second year in a row. He says the polar plunge is one of the most fun things he has ever done.
“I was really, really surprised when you jump in the water how invigorating it is,” Dowell says. “What the cold water does to your body is just crazy. You don’t feel cold at all. It’s really strange.”
Dowell says he and some of his 20 teammates jumped into the water multiple times—three times in five minutes to be exact!
While Dowell says that the initial draw to participate was the excitement surrounding the plunge, he says he and his teammates appreciate that their efforts go to a good cause.
“There’s multiple reasons to get excited about this—you’re having fun with your friends but also giving back to the community,” Dowell says.
The money raised on March 1 will benefit the 5,000 participants of Special Olympics Chicago by helping them to participate in 40 events. Nicholl says the money raised helps cover the costs of equipment, transportation and t-shirts, just to name a few things.
She stresses that the plunge is a very safe event. There is a team of professional divers who clear the swimming space for the plungers and make sure no one dives head first into the shallow waters. The Chicago Fire Department will also be present. For those scared of the full plunge, they do not have to go all the way under the water—they can go waist-high or even knee-high.
“It’s just a great all-around spirited event where people have cabin fever and want to come out and make a difference in a fun and unique way,” Nicholl says.
You can register for the event at no cost. The minimum fundraising amount is $175, but Nicholl says the average plunger raises $400.
Dowell’s advice for any new plungers: “Don’t over-think it, just do it.”
Where: North Avenue Beach
When: March 1, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The organization: Special Olympics Chicago
Special Olympics Chicago is one of 17 areas of Special Olympics Illinois. The organization offers training and competition in 22 sports, teaching fundamentals, rules and strategies during a training period prior to competition. Their competitions are held at the area, regional and state levels. Many of the organization’s offerings are held at Chicago Park District locations and in Chicago Public Schools.
The entire Special Olympics movement was founded in Chicago. The first ever international Special Olympics Games was held at Soldier Field on July 20, 1968 with the support of the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation and Chicago Park District. The very first games had 1,000 athletes from 22 states. Today there are 4 million athletes in 17 countries. There are 5,000 athletes in Chicago alone.