Taking the plunge for Special Olympics Saskatchewan

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4th annual polar bear plunge raises funds for Special Olympics. Elisabeth Sahlmueller

Bravery and generosity from the U of R community

Last Tuesday 44 brave students, staff, faculty and other members from the University of Regina community plunged into a bin with ice cold water. While this may sound like a crazy thing to do, especially considering the frigid weather during our Saskatchewan winters, these actions were not based on craziness. Instead, these 44 individuals were participating in the fourth annual Special Olympics Saskatchewan Polar Bear Plunge. This annual fundraising event involves people willingly jumping into a large bin full of ice cold water in order to not only support, but also raise money for Special Olympics Saskatchewan.

According to Jeff Zerr, the event’s key organizer, inspiration for the Polar Bear Plunge came from the idea that these types of events are “held worldwide.” Special Olympics Saskatchewan felt that a Polar Bear Plunge fundraiser would be a fun way for Saskatchewan residents to “embrace the cold winter months,” while at the same time raising awareness, support and money for a worthy cause.

“Special Olympics Saskatchewan is dedicated to enriching the lives of individuals with an intellectual disability through sport. [This organization opens people’s] hearts and minds towards people with intellectual disabilities and creates more inclusive communities.”

This year’s Polar Bear Plunge event involved two separate dates. The first was held at Victoria Square Mall on Feb. 17. Over the course of three separate jumps, held at 1:00, 2:00 and 3:00 p.m., 60 brave individuals (and I do stress brave, since the weather was below -20 degrees) took the plunge. Funds were also raised by selling tickets for a 50/50 raffle, which raised $2,075. Collectively, this one day raised $24,540.

The second event took place at the University of Regina, in the outside space between the Centre for Kinesiology, Health and Sport and Wakpā Tower. Even though the weather was slightly warmer at around -8 degrees, the water was still incredibly cold, as I was told by the multiple individuals who were brave enough to plunge. Luckily, plungers were able to warm up afterwards with a soak in the hot tub and some free hot chocolate provided by volunteers from Sask. Apprenticeship. Medical staff were also present with extra oxygen and a defibrillator to provide medical attention in case there were any health problems, especially in regard to “hypothermia or cardiac issues,” which they listed as their top two biggest health concerns at this type of event.

After an opening speech by Dylan Morin and Pat Patton, the  director of the University of Regina’s Security and Operations Department, the plungers were kick-started by Harold Reimer, celebrity plunger and the Dean of Kinesiology and Health Studies. Throughout the afternoon, 43 others, either individually or in groups, plunged. The final plunge began with the second celebrity plunger, Bob Maltmann, head coach of the U of R women’s soccer team.

Two groups of student plungers included the Ice Cold Peers, seven engineering students who are also members of the Engineering Students Society, as well as five kinesiology students, Holden Norie, Carter Hiebert, Tanner Entam, Skyler Barnesky and Ben Berger, who together raised $290 from personal donations. Additionally, it was also great to see the Student Union President, Victor Oriola, come out as a participant plunger.

In order to participate, individuals had to pay a minimum $40 registration fee. However, as I quickly found out, many student participants took up their own fundraising initiatives, including second year kinesiology student, Haley McGrath, who raised $385 from a simple Facebook post, which was shared among various family members and friends. A similar situation occurred with Campion students, third-year Sydney Salymka and fourth-year Danielle Graff, who together raised around $165 through a combination of funds from Campion’s Peer Ministry and personal donations.

When asked what motivated their involvement in this fundraising event, many participants expressed an interest in wanting to help out and support a good cause. According to the group of kinesiology students, they wanted “to [both] raise money and awareness for Special Olympics and support all the Saskatchewan Special Olympic athletes who attend the U of R.”

For McGrath, this event was brought to her attention by one of her professors in class and at that time she thought “I could do that!” which ultimately encouraged her to become involved. Oriola expressed how “it is important for the student union to show its support for these types of events.”

In addition to the enthusiastic participation of the plungers, this event was also aided by a great deal of volunteers. Some of these volunteers included seven RBC employees, who were there to help out with the registration table and guide people. As one volunteer explained, “it is important to participate and show as much support as possible for community events, especially those which are for a good cause.”

It is also important to acknowledge that this event would not have been possible without the help and support of various “tremendous sponsors.” As Zerr explained, Loraas provided … the plunge bin, Paradise Leisurescapes installed a customized pool liner [inside] the bin, [as well as an] on site hot tub for the participants to warm up after taking the plunge and Icon Scaffolding provided the platform for the plungers to [jump off of].”

By the end of the second day, $9,300 was raised and Zerr was pleased by the “great response [received from the] new location.”

Thanks to everyone who participated in, volunteered at, or sponsored this year’s fourth annual Special Olympics Saskatchewan Polar Bear Plunge roughly $33,840 was raised for Special Olympics Saskatchewan. “All of these funds “will stay in Saskatchewan” and provide “low to no cost year-round programming for … over 1,200 [Saskatchewan] Special Olympic athletes,” confirmed Zerr

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