Fighting Illini Polar Plunge raises money for Special Olympics

A group of participants simultaneously dive in for the 2015 Polar Plunge to benefit Special Olympics Illinois at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, March 7.

By Ali Braboy

Despite the 39-degree weather on Saturday, volunteers gathered at Memorial Stadium to willingly jump in an outdoor pool filled with freezing cold water to raise money for Special Olympics Illinois.

The first Fighting Illini Polar Plunge raised $40,200 with 300 plungers, according to Special Olympics Illinois’ website. Each participant raised a minimum of $75 for the cause.

Jackie Walk, Special Olympics Illinois Area 8 director, said the money raised will go toward Special Olympics Illinois Area 8/Eastern Prairie, serving athletes with intellectual disabilities in six counties, including Champaign.

Walk said Special Olympics is a great program for those with intellectual disabilities who are at least eight years old.

“This is how they get involved in community, this is how they build friendships for a lifetime,” Walk said. “So being able to fund raise and keep that program going for them is our top priority.”

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    Fundraising events are important because the group does not charge individuals to participate in Special Olympics; the organization also does not receive state or federal funding, Walk said.

    Zack Schoettes, junior in LAS, attended the event as a member of the University’s cheerleading team to encourage the participants.

    Schoettes, along with the other cheerleaders, cheered on the participants as they went to jump in the water and after they got out.

    “It’s for a great cause, and it really helps raise a lot of money,” Schoettes said.

    Beth Visel, police officer for the Division of Public Safety, said the University of Illinois Police Department sponsored the event, and had three teams that participated: police officers, housing security and Student Patrol members.

    Visel said the police department raised $1,950 with four officers and one sergeant, while housing security raised $545 with six members and the student patrol raised $1,010 with six members.

    Albert Baek, junior in LAS, participated as part of the Student Patrol team.

    Baek said although he expected the water to be cold, he was deeply involved in the event. His friend has a brother with autism, and Baek said the family has been very involved in Special Olympics.

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