Seymour mayor, Special Olympics supporters participate in Polar Plunge



Wearing a Seymour swimming T-shirt, shorts and water shoes, Seymour Mayor Matt Nicholson was ready to take the plunge.

With the temperature outside and in Deam Lake in the high 30s, Nicholson held onto the torch he was carrying to kick off Saturday’s Polar Plunge so he could stay warm.

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He then kept his grip on the torch as he slogged through the cold water with a group of state troopers.

Nicholson didn’t mind the cold at all. He knew his efforts would help the more than 17,000 athletes who compete in Special Olympics Indiana.

“The first step, I thought, ‘Well, that is not as cold as I thought it would be,’” Nicholson said. “Then by the time I reached the rescue swimmers, I was ready to give high-fives. My toes went numb pretty quick, and that was the worst part.”

As he exited the water, changed and got warm, he reflected on what he just did.

“Exiting the water and making my way back to the bathhouse was the worst part of the adventure. That was when my toes really got cold and my legs followed,” Nicholson said. “After changing, though, it really wasn’t too bad at all. I was able to hang out and watch the rest of the Jackson County team take the plunge.”

Nicholson was among the 18 people on the Seymour Tsunamis Polar Plunge team. Seven others took the plunge, while the rest were virtual plungers who just raised money online.

The team turned in $2,967 for Special Olympics Indiana, and at least 50% will come back to the county program.

Bobbie Binggeli, coordinator of the Borden Polar Plunge, said $109,703.09 was turned in by the 404 plungers on 35 teams with more money still coming in.

“Wow! Today’s event was wonderful,” she posted on Facebook on Saturday. “This was our best year ever. Thank you to everyone who played a role in making this event a success.”

Combined with the Polar Plunge events Saturday in Valparaiso, Versailles and West Lafayette, Special Olympics Indiana reported nearly 1,100 plungers and a fundraising total of $275,000. There are still 10 more events coming up.

When Binggeli found out Nicholson was a part of the Jackson County team, she encouraged other mayors in the southern part of the state to get involved.

He, however, was the only one to step up to the plate and was chosen to carry the torch.

“I was a little surprised by the ask, but I am honored to have gotten to lead the event and hundreds of plungers into the 39.3-degree water,” Nicholson said.

Along with his Seymour Tsunamis teammates watching were his wife, Zabrina, and two of their daughters, Sallie and Matte.

“They encourage me to participate in things like this and often find themselves in similar events. Just a few years ago, Zabrina participated in a Polar Plunge for cancer at her school,” Matt said. “I cannot thank them enough for all the support they have given through the years.”

Matt led the team by raising $345 but said he had no idea because he was focused on encouraging people to help his teammates reach their personal goals.

“Thank you to the donors. Thank you to the team for welcoming me aboard. Thank you to all the athletes who have welcomed me with open arms every time we have seen each other,” he said. “Even when they don’t know it, I enjoy the social media posts about what they are accomplishing. They bring a smile to my face on a regular basis.”

Matt said he was drawn to Special Olympics a few years ago when he watched his neighbor, Jeremiah Griffin, play in a basketball tournament for another county.

“I was hooked at that point. The smiles and the cheers for one another were amazing,” Matt said. “Shortly after that tournament, a group started working on a Jackson County team. I can’t thank them enough for committing the time and effort to make it possible for our local athletes to have a chance to compete.”

Special Olympics Indiana is a nonprofit organization that provides year-round sports training and athletic competition in more than 20 Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities ages 8 and up. Fundraisers such as the Polar Plunge allow athletes to participate at no cost.

After seeing Jeremiah and his father, Donald Griffin II, do the Polar Plunge last year, Matt said he was in this year.

Donald said the mayor’s involvement was his motivation to do it again.

“I felt proud to say that I know the mayor personally and that he really cares about the people of the community that he serves,” Donald said. “Then when I saw him leading the start crew into the water only wearing a pair of shorts and T-shirt not looking back or even hesitating about going any further was a real encouragement to me. I am proud to say that I live in Seymour, Indiana.”

Even though he felt numb afterwards, Donald said it was worth it.

“I kept thinking to myself, ‘I am not doing this again,’ but then my family keeps reminding me that ‘You said that last year, too. Now look, you just did it for the second time, and then when it comes around to sign up next year, you won’t think twice about signing up,’” Donald said.

County Coordinator Crystal Ackeret and her daughter, Hannah, plunged for the second year in a row along with volunteer Chloe Shepherd. They were joined by Crystal’s youngest daughter, Nevaeh, who is a Special Olympics athlete.

“When I did the plunge last year, I knew it would be something I could see myself doing every year, so when it came time to sign up for this year’s event, it was a no-brainer. I was doing it, and I got to do it with friends I have made through Special Olympics and two of my daughters,” Crystal said.

Throughout the event, Crystal said she experiences a range of emotions.

“The excitement builds as the days get closer, and then you get there and just take it all in, but when you get in that white staging tent, it hits you, like, ‘Man, what did I get myself into?’” she said. “The water is so cold that your body just goes numb, so it isn’t really that bad.”

She, too, was happy to see the mayor involved.

“I loved the interactions between him and our athletes that were there,” Crystal said. “He talked and joked around with them. He went in first carrying the torch and waited around to watch our team even though we were almost last to go in. He took time out of his very busy and no doubt stressful schedule and made a difference. I love that.”

Hannah said she wanted to take the plunge again because last year was a good experience.

“This year, I definitely think it was colder,” she said. “I couldn’t feel my toes before I even got in the water, so when I got in, it wasn’t terrible.”

Shepherd wanted to do it again for the benefits of the team.

“The money is very much needed and helps with things such as uniforms, going to the state tournaments, etc.,” she said. “I felt very proud afterwards knowing that it is a good cause.”

Nevaeh described her first Polar Plunge as a cold and fun experience.

“Right now, I am going to say I might do it again next year,” she said. “I would tell other athletes to do it because it helps our team, and it is fun.”

Members of the Seymour Tsunamis are ready to take the plunge again in 2021.

So, mayor, will you be there, too?

“Maybe. It probably depends on who wants to join me in helping out a great cause,” Matt said. “Rumor has it Jackson County Special Olympics is already thinking of costume themes for 2021’s Polar Plunge. In the event that ‘The Little Mermaid’ wins out, I hope they can find someone with the proper beard to be King Triton. I think Sebastian is more my speed.”

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To see more photos from Saturday’s Polar Plunge in Borden, check out Doyle Adams’ online gallery at

With 10 Polar Plunge events remaining, there’s still plenty of time to sign up, donate or get involved at


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