Individuals will once again be able to run into cold bodies of water and receive prizes for raising money at the 15th annual Polar Plunge in Kirksville. The event will take place March 6 at Thousand Hills State Park. The Polar Plunge is a fundraiser for Special Olympics Missouri, and all of the proceeds from the Kirksville Polar Plunge will fund local Special Olympics athletes.
During the event, individuals receive prizes for raising $500, $1,000, and $2,000. Participants can compete as individuals or join a team to raise funds.
Each year the Polar Plunge has a theme. This year’s theme is “Jurassic Times call for Jurassic Plungers.” Melody Prawitz, the development director for Special Olympics North Missouri, said while some people dress up according to the theme, it is not required. Participants who choose to dress up can compete in a costume contest. There will be first, second and third place winners both for the individual category and for the team category. Prawitz said the most coveted prize is the “Golden Plunger” award, which is given for best costume.
In past years, there has been a parade to judge the costumes, but this year participants will be judged in heats as teams plunge.
Prawitz said this year’s Polar Plunge has been approved by the City of Kirksville and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that COVID-19 does not spread in water. To reduce potential spread, the heats of participants will be slower than in past years, and the event will be more spread out along the beach. There will be social distancing signs and a limited number of people allowed in the registration tent, with sanitation stations available at the changing tents. Masks will be required when individuals are not actively plunging.
There will also be a virtual option for the event this year so that people who might not be comfortable attending in person can still participate. Individuals or teams can register online and still be able to help raise funds. Those who choose the online option will still receive a t-shirt and be eligible for prizes, Prawitz said. Participants can stand in a cold shower or dump ice water on themselves and send in a picture, though it isn’t required.
In past years, attendance at the Polar Plunge has been as high as 110 people. Prawitz said that attendance will likely be lower this year. Numbers are currently about a fourth of what they usually are, but she thinks it’s possible that more people will wait to register until closer to the event.
Prawitz said she has noticed that students aren’t actively participating as much in the Polar Plunge this year as in past years. Typically, sororities and fraternities participate and volunteer at the event so she hopes they will do the same this year. Prawitz says that volunteers are essential to the Special Olympics program. Students can volunteer not only for the Polar Plunge event, but also to coach teams or assist with events throughout the year such as bowling, softball or golf tournaments.
This year, the fundraising goal for the Polar Plunge event is $30,000 including sponsorships, which covers their budget. In past years, that amount of money has been raised, but Prawitz said she is not sure it will be achievable this year because of people’s hesitation to go to events.
The money will go to funding uniforms, equipment, transportation and other costs for the Kirksville area school-aged team and adult-aged team. Fundraising for Special Olympics is important because they do not receive any state or federal funds, and it is free for athletes to participate.
Patty Sutton, a Special Olympics athlete and ambassador, said she was able to raise $385 so far. The event is helpful for her team, and without the fundraising, she wouldn’t be able to afford to compete.
“I don’t think I could do any of that without the support from my family, my friends, church family — the list is just so long,” Sutton said.
Sutton said she is also thankful for the support of her coaches, mentor and her sister.
Prawitz said the Kirksville community in general has been very opening, inviting and supportive.
This year’s Polar Plunge sponsors are Kirksville Motor Company and Brawner Insurance. The event will be in memory of former Kirksville Police Chief Steve Farnsworth, who died last October. Prawitz said Farnsworth’s name will be on all of the Polar Plunge t-shirts.
“He was a big supporter of the Special Olympics and our athletes and especially the plunge, so the plunge will be held in his honor this year,” Prawitz said.