Polar Plunge and Donut Dash come to campus

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Photo courtesy of Emmerson Hjort

Emmerson Hjort is the Polar Plunge ambassador and global messenger of Special Olympics Illinois. The University’s Polar Plunge is March 10 and the two students who raise the most money will receive scholarships.

By Niani Scott, Staff Writer

The University is hosting a Polar Plunge and Donut Dash on March 10 to fundraise for Special Olympics athletes from central Illinois.

Participants of the Polar Plunge can raise or donate $100 by diving into a frozen retention pool, while participants for the Donut Dash can raise or donate $30 to run in a 5k race. During the race, participants can stop along the trail at donut stops. A minute will be deducted for each time the runner stops.

This year, the University student who raises the most money in the Polar Plunge will receive a $1,000 scholarship, and the second place winner will receive $500.

The Polar Plunge and Donut Dash are premier fundraisers for the Special Olympics, said Vanessa Duncan, Area Director of the East Central Illinois branch of the cause.

“My favorite thing is the Donut Dash…I like eating the donuts,” Emmerson Hjort, ambassador of Polar Plunge and global messenger of Special Olympics Illinois, said.

Kathleen Williams, mother of Hjort and speech pathologist, said the money raised will go toward rent for practice venues, medals, meals and leadership training.

“(The money) stays local,” Williams said. “There’s little federal funding for Special Olympics so the fundraising that is done through the Polar Plunge is extremely important to keep programs going and to expand programs.”

Hjort, a high school student with Down syndrome, is one of the athletes who benefitted from past Polar Plunges and Donut Dashes hosted by the University. Hjort is involved in gymnastics, snowshoeing, track and field, softball and golf.

“I am an active person, and I know what I am capable of doing,” Hjort said.

As the ambassador of the program, Hjort chooses the theme for and personally participates in the Polar Plunge every year. The theme this year will be “Disco.”

“She picks the theme, and we all dress up, which is part of the fun,” Williams said. “We spend several months preparing and making costumes. Searching all over for bits and pieces.”

The difference between the Polar Plunge hosted by the University and those hosted by others is that it uses a retention pond instead of a lake. Williams said that makes it harder because it’s easier to just run into the lake instead of stepping into the pond, but it’s still fun and helps the cause. 

“Many of our athletes were isolated before joining the Special Olympics,” Duncan said. “The goal of the Special Olympics is to transform lives of Special Olympics athletes by bringing the joy of sports to their lives, opening their minds and [strengthening their] sense of wellbeing.”

Duncan also said she personally participates in the Polar Plunge every year.

“I want to show people that this is not just my job, but that I just love giving back,” Duncan said.

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