One holiday tradition gaining traction in the least likely of places — the sunshine state of Florida — is the annual Polar Plunge.
Floridians, however, aren’t as big of fans of cold water as they are of worthy causes, such as raising funds for Special Olympics athletes.
On Saturday, Dec. 15, participants dressed in everything from Christmas-themed onesies to pirate attire joined together to take the plunge in the chilly 60-degree wave pool at Adventure Landing’s Shipwreck Island Water Park.
Overall, the event managed to exceed its goal of raising $12,000. This year’s campaign was the fourth to be held in Jacksonville and with the help of athletes and participants managed to raise $13,316. Highlighting the fundraising efforts was Polar Plunge participant Finley Boerema with $2,160.
The event isn’t just about raising money, however. In addition to helping people with intellectual and developmental disabilities afford transportation, uniforms and accommodation while traveling for events, it brings the athletes closer to the community.
“So, what we like to do is have the community interact with the athletes at the event,” said Hilary Kendrick, the development and special events manager for Special Olympics Florida. “We want to show that there is no difference in ability and no difference in excitement. We want to bring awareness to what our athletes are capable of. Events like this are great because it gives an opportunity for the community to mix with our athletes and gives them the chance to maybe break down some barriers.”
Sarah Appleton joined her friend, Elizabeth Zahn, to raise money and join the fun of the event. The duo was dressed as characters from one of their favorite movies, “The Blues Brothers.”
“It’s optional to do the costumes,” said Appleton, who was dressed as Elwood Blues. “It’s good to do though because it’s more about support.”
Appleton has participated the last two years in the event. She said she does not feel nervous about getting in, however. She said the cold water doesn’t affect her. In fact, she likes it. “I am actually more Norwegian than I let on,” she said.
For anyone interested in donating to the Special Olympics, Publix will host its annual Torch Icon Campaign this January, at which customers will be able to purchase paper torches at the check-out register. The torches will be displayed in-store and donations go to providing year-round training for competitions for Special Olympics athletes.