One hundred and fifty-six Appalachian State University students braved the frigid Duck Pond water in the 18th annual Polar Plunge on Thursday, raising $8,773 to support the Special Olympics.
Since the event’s inception, over $125,000 has been raised.
Students who participate in the event pay $25 to jump into Duck Pond. Keron Poteat, the Watauga County Special Olympics coordinator, said the money will go towards transportation and other necessities.
“The money raised here today will go directly towards transportation costs, whether that means to get them to Hilton Head if they’re playing in a tennis tournament there or to a state-level event, or if we’re putting on a local event,” Poteat said. “It also goes to uniforms, food, social events, medals and other stuff like that.”
The event raised more money than last year’s Polar Plunge, which raised approximately $7,200, according to Poteat.
Daniel Statum, a senior communications major, said the Polar Plunge on his list of things to do before he graduated.
“The water was freaking cold, but it was definitely worth it,” Statum said. “I’m a senior and I’m graduating this year, and doing the Plunge was a senior bucket list kind of thing.”
Caitlin Bryant, a freshman biology major, said she intends on participating in the Polar Plunge for all four years of college.
“I’m definitely going to try and do this all four years,” Bryant said. “It’s a ton of fun and it’s for a great cause. So why wouldn’t you want to do it?”
There is a second component to the Polar Plunge: the costume contest. Each year, some participants wear costumes to the event. Some people take their costumes off before jumping in and others decide to jump into the water wearing their outfits.
Each year, they award the male and female participants with the most creative costume.
This year’s female winner was Danielle Davis, a freshman chemistry major, who dressed up as the character Tigger from the children’s series “Winnie the Pooh.”
“I had the Tigger costume leftover from Halloween, and since the fundraiser was for children, I felt it was appropriate to dress up as one of my childhood favorites,” Davis said. “The water was painfully cold, but after I got used to it, it was awesome. Jumping with my friends was super fun, not to mention the funny looks I got as I walked back to Cannon Hall dripping wet in a soggy Tigger costume.”
The male costume contest winner was Ian Black, a freshman communication studies major. Black went dressed as “Mr. Princess.”
The idea for his costume came from some friends who lived on his dorm floor, Black said.
“They thought it’d be funny if they dressed me up like a girl and I dressed them up as guys,” Black said. “I was surprised when I found out I won. I was just there to support the Special Olympics, a cause that’s near and dear to my heart. Winning the contest was just a cherry on top.”
Each year, the Appalachian State ROTC kicks off the event by having a number of their members swim the length of the pond, and then many more jump in before the event begins and the rest of the participants take the plunge.
In addition, the ROTC is one of the biggest supporters of the Polar Plunge. This year, they donated $1,520 to the event.
“The Polar Plunge would definitely not be what it is without the ROTC,” Poteat said.
The Polar Plunge originated through another charity event called the Law Enforcement Torch Run to benefit the Special Olympics. The LETR is a state-run event, so 85 percent of the money raised went to the state.
Although the event is still run by the local law enforcement agencies, such as the Boone Police Department, Appalachian State Police Department and the Sheriff’s Department, they decided to break off from the LETR label 18 years ago so that all the proceeds could stay local.
“Our law enforcement wanted 100 percent of the earnings to benefit our local athletes, and we’ve seen our numbers increase drastically since then,” Poteat said.
The Special Olympics, which was founded in 1968, holds winter and summer games every four years, but they also hold events all year long.
“We are doing something almost every single month,” Poteat said. “There are 99 programs from across the state of North Carolina that have Special Olympics in them, and all of those counties are active throughout the year. Right now we’re doing basketball and aquatics, and as soon as those end we pick up with volleyball, cycling, track and field and bowling. As soon as those end, we pick up with tennis, badminton, soccer, and some others.”
North Carolina has approximately 40,000 Special Olympics athletes and Watauga County has approximately 150 athletes.
Statum said he admires what the Special Olympics stands for, and said that’s why he participated in the event.
“The Special Olympics allows everyone to do what they strive to do, no matter if they’re disabled or not,” Statum said. “Everyone should be able to pursue their dreams.”
Story by Tommy Culkin, Senior News Reporter