ST. GEORGE – Large bags of ice were ripped open and dumped into the St. George City Pool to prepare for the many who came to dive into the chilled water for the third annual “Polar Plunge for Special Olympics Utah.” See video top of this report.
The Polar Plunge is a fundraiser for the Special Olympics that takes place across the nation and took root in St. George three years ago. Last year over 50 plungers participated and raised $15,000 for the Special Olympic Utah. This year they are hoping to raise $20,000.
“All of the money goes to Special Olympics Utah,” St. George Police Officer Jeremy Needles said, adding it helps out in two specific ways.
First, the funding allows athletes to compete in regional and state competitions.
Second, funding is applied through a program called Healthy Athletes. It pays for doctors to examine the athletes and determine if they need any special gear to be able to complete in the games. This could include items such as special footwear or glasses.
“It improves their lifestyles and livelihoods,” Needles said.
Southern Utah is home to 500 Special Olympians who account for a quarter of the state’s Special Olympics athletes, he said.
The St. George Police Department and Washington County Sheriff’s Office sponsors the event each year and have many from their ranks participate in the plunge. Other public safety personnel, such as members of the St. George Fire Department and neighboring agencies, also participate.
Some the officers and deputies and others were dressed for the occasion in shorts and T-shirts, while others, like Needles, dove into the pool in uniform. Members of the St. George Police SWAT team hopped in wearing green.
“It’s a great cause: the Special Olympics, how would it be any better than that?” St. George Mayor Jon Pike said prior to diving into the chilled water.
Following Pike was City Councilwoman Bette Arial’s grandson.
Before launching off the diving board, Pike said it was a really nice day in St. George, and the plungers were much luckier with the mild weather than back East where snow blankets places like Boston and New York City.
Others to plunge included Washington Country Sheriff Cory Pulsipher, followed by a rare appearance of Bigfoot.
In addition to money raised through law enforcement and individual plungers, the Polar Plunge has many corporate sponsors. Among the biggest is Wal-Mart, which had teams from its Bloomington, Washington and Hurricane locations, as well as the distribution center.
“It was really cold,” said Kaye Keene, who was a part of the Wal-Mart Distribution Center team, “I had my fellow manager push me in.”
Keene said it was an honor to be able to help raise funds for Special Olympics Utah. Wal-Mart has a program called “Volunteerism Always Pays,” Keene said, which will enable the team to give up to $5,000 to the cause.
About three-to-four Special Olympics Utah’s South Area teams also participated in the plunge. Among them was the Hothead team.
Penny Freeman has worked with the team, though she recently retired from actively working with the them. “It’s been a wonderful experience,” she said.
Special Olympics Utah’s South Area and other areas are always looking for volunteers and coaches, Freeman said. Anyone interested in volunteering can go to the Special Olympics Utah website for additional information.
According to the 2015 Polar Plunge webpage, online donations closed at $3,415. Money gathered at the Polar Plunge was still being counted at the end of the event, Needles said, and they most likely raised at least $15,000.
For KCSG and St. George News, Melissa Anderson contributed the videocast attached to this report.
Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery.
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- Polar Plungers brave chilled waters for Special Olympics; STGnews Videocast
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