Polar Plunge to raise money for Special Olympics

Alex Gladden
Fort Smith Times Record
At this year's Logan County Polar Plunge on Feb. 13, participants will run into Cove Lake, dunking their bodies in the winter water. Logan County residents are seen here at Cove Lake in the 2020 Polar Plunge.

All in the name of charity, every year Logan County residents rush into frigid waters. 

The Logan County Polar Plunge is part of a statewide effort to raise money for the Special Olympics, a group whose mission is to "provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for all children and adults with intellectual disabilities," according to the Special Olympics Arkansas website. 

“I am excited to get back to sports with my friends. I have been training at home but I miss competitions. I love to see everyone plunge for me and my friends in Special Olympics,” Lyndsey Smith, a Special Olympics athlete, said in a press release.

Across the state, more than 20 communities are participating in polar plunges. The first polar plunge began Jan. 30 and they last through April, according to a press release. The polar plunge is the largest fundraiser for the Special Olympics.

At this year's Logan County Polar Plunge on Feb. 13, participants will run into Cove Lake, dunking their bodies in the winter water. 

“It literally took my breath away it’s so cold," said Leslie Oliver, who is organizing the fundraiser, about participating in previous plunges. She later added, “it felt like I had the wind knocked out of me." 

Oliver said she always screams as she runs into the lake, running until the water hits her knees and then bellyflopping herself under the water. 

Like Oliver, most people completely submerge themselves in water as part of the plunge. 

“But to me, it’s not a plunge if I don’t go under the water," Oliver said. 

To raise money, people get sponsors who pay for them to take the plunge. Last year, the group brought in about $3,000, Oliver said. 

The goal is to get $5,000 from the event this year, according to the Special Olympics' website. Thus far, the Logan County organization has contributed about $110 to the cause. 

To participate in the plunge, people have to bring in at least $50, Oliver said. 

Where the funds go

Of the money that is raised at Cove Lake, 30% of it will stay in the area for local programming and equipment, and the remaining 70% will go to the state organization, said Ann Hudson, a field representative with Special Olympics Arkansas. 

There are approximately 350 Special Olympics athletes in the area, Hudson said. 

“It’s a good cause, raising money for the athletes," Oliver said. 

Although only two people have signed up to do the plunge online, Oliver said most people just show up to the plunge with their pledge form and the money they've raised. 

“It’s really hard to get people to polar plunge," Oliver said.

Taking part

Registration for the Polar Plunge starts at 11 a.m. Feb. 13 and the actual plunge takes place at noon.

People can take part individually or on teams. Some people dress up for the event. Last year a group came dressed in Halloween costumes. This year, Oliver is encouraging her team to wear superhero capes. 

“It’s just crazy fun," Oliver said. 

The lone rule at the event is that people are not allowed to wear wetsuits if they want to take the plunge. 

People can also participate in the challenge virtually by videoing themselves and getting sponsors to back them monetarily, Hudson said. 

Part of what makes Oliver continue to be involved with the Polar Plunge is the work she's done with the Special Olympics. 

“You can’t imagine the excitement and enthusiasm they get out of participating," Oliver said about the Special Olympics athletes.