Local teams participate in Polar Plunge to benefit Special Olympics

The Polar Plunge brings out a lot of emotions.

On the way to Deam Lake in Borden on Saturday, six people were taking the plunge for the first time. They had no idea what to expect. “How is this set up?” “How cold will the water be?” “How will we feel afterwards?”

Once they arrived, the Seymour Tsunamis saw that the teams entered the water one at a time. They also heard the announcement that the water was 33 degrees. The sun being out helped, but the temperature was in the 30s with a slight wind.

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The Tsunamis were the last team to plunge. They took the short jaunt through the water toward Department of Natural Resources personnel, who were there to make sure everyone stayed safe.

Some chose to go chest-deep, while a couple only went waist-deep.

Afterwards, everyone was freezing and a little numb, and even a few tears were shed.

Outside, they were cold, but inside, they felt warm knowing they were freezin’ for a reason, helping raise more than $900 for Special Olympics Indiana’s signature fundraiser.

That same day at Versailles State Park in Versailles, the Champions Together team, consisting of four Seymour Community School Corp. teachers, took the plunge after raising $1,610.

“I wanted to participate to help raise money for other athletic events and people with disabilities,” said Jeremiah Griffin, the only Jackson County athlete to participate in the Polar Plunge.

Special Olympics Indiana is a not-for-profit organization that provides year-round sports training and athletic competition in more than 20 Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

Funds raised will give more than 16,000 athletes around the state the means to train locally and compete at the state level in the sports offered.

To participate in the Polar Plunge, a person must be at least 12 years old and raise a “bear” minimum of $75 ($50 minimum for students with a student identification).

Griffin, a student at Seymour High School, said he had a good time raising money and plunging for the first time.

“I was excited about it until I got into the frigid water. I was freezing,” he said. “The only feeling I had after was getting warmed up.”

Once he was warmed up, he realized he did a good deed.

“I would tell people it’s a fun event for a good cause,” he said of encouraging others to participate, as there are eight more plunges the next two weekends.

His father, Donald Griffin II, is on the county management team. He said he wanted to participate because he believes deeply in the Special Olympics Indiana program.

“I want to see all people, no matter what their disability is, to continue to have the opportunity to play in sports at their level,” Donald said.

He also experienced the Polar Plunge for the first time.

“It wasn’t too bad going in at first,” he said. “Then the further out you got, the more you realized how cold you really were.”

Donald said he liked raising money for a good cause. The Tsunamis collected online donations and also set out collection cans at more than 20 businesses in Seymour and Brownstown.

“I would encourage everyone to come out and join in the excitement of the Polar Plunge event,” he said. “It’s a great fundraiser for your county program. Everyone is very supportive of each other and super-friendly.”

Chloe Shepherd and Hannah Ackeret are students at Seymour High School who volunteer with the organization in Jackson County.

Shepherd said it’s important to her to support Special Olympics.

“I think Special Olympics is a great way to promote independence and self-esteem for people with disabilities, so I wanted to help raise money for that,” she said. “The atmosphere that surrounds Special Olympics and the Polar Plunge is such a great atmosphere. Everyone is very kind and supportive, and it’s a wonderful thing to be a part of.”

Ackeret said she had her sister, Haley, in mind during the Polar Plunge. Haley is an athlete in the county.

“It is important because it benefits people like my sister,” Hannah said. “I wanted to participate because it is for a good cause, and I thought it would be fun. Honestly, it wasn’t the best experience. I cried, but I will do it again.”

Even though it was cold, Shepherd said she pushed through knowing it was for a good cause.

“It’s important because the money goes to tournaments, new uniforms and equipment, which helps the athletes have a better experience during their athletics,” she said.

County coordinator Crystal Ackeret took the plunge, too.

“Plunging wasn’t as bad as I thought,” she said. “The water was cold, and it took my breath away for a minute, but we were in and out in no time.”

She said she is going to encourage others to join the team for next year’s plunge.

“It is worth it,” she said. “Seeing the smiles on the faces of our athletes makes running into freezing cold water worth it all, and whether you help by plunging or donating, you can say, ‘I was a part of something that helped people in my community.’”

She said she’s glad to be a part of Special Olympics.

“Special Olympics is a wonderful thing for our community,” she said. “Everyone wants a place where they belong, where they feel comfortable and at home, so to say. Special Olympics is that place for our athletes and volunteers. We have become extended family to each other.”

This was the second-straight year for the Seymour teachers to plunge in Versailles.

Meigan Vest, a special education teacher at Seymour-Jackson Elementary School, said this was her fifth time taking the plunge.

The team, which also included Gretchen Booher, Jordyn Henkle and D.J. Henkle, raised $1,610. Their fundraisers included selling root beer floats for students and jeans week for teachers at Jackson.

“I have a special place in my heart for people who have a disability that may not allow them to participate in sports or other activities, which is why raising money to give to Special Olympics has been important to me,” Vest said.

If someone doesn’t want to plunge into the cold water, they can be a virtual plunger by collecting online donations.

Vest, however, said she always looks forward to the adventure of plunging.

“What will the weather be like? Will the water be ice? Will it be snowing?” she said. “This year, the water was colder than last year at 32 degrees. It was like nails piercing through your body but is the greatest feeling knowing that our team raising money and plunging is making a difference.”

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Special Olympics Indiana Jackson County: facebook.com/jacksoncountyspecialolympics

Special Olympics Indiana: soindiana.org