Special Olympics Illinois is asking members of the Bloomington-Normal community to join thousands across the state as they pledge to Be Bold and Get Cold this winter as participants of the annual Illinois Law Enforcement Torch Run Polar Plunge presented by GEICO.

And, while there are opportunities to participate in different ways, the general concept is simple – you choose to Plunge YOUR Way or Plunge OUR Way; register to support your local area; raise a minimum of $100; and take the Polar Plunge.

Choosing to Plunge YOUR Way puts the participant in the driver’s seat – and provides a little creative freedom. In 2021, this included snowball fights, sledding by onlookers with buckets of water, and so much more.

Selecting to Plunge OUR Way means you will join your local community at an on-site, Special Olympics Illinois-hosted event. In Bloomington-Normal, this warm-hearted group will take the Plunge on February 26 at Miller Park Lake.

One Plunger you will see there is Special Olympics Illinois athlete Allyson Meyer. She will be bold and get cold for her sixth year in a row, and she cannot wait.

“It’s cold, but I like doing it with my friends,” says Allyson.

Allyson is multi-sport athlete who competes as a member of S.O.A.R (Special Opportunities Available in Recreation), a community therapeutic recreation program jointly sponsored by the City of Bloomington and Town of Normal through their Parks and Recreation departments.

Now 30-years-old, Allyson has been competing with Special Olympics Illinois for 22 years, including softball, bowling, and volleyball. She has also participated in the Unified tennis and bocce. Unified sports are so named as they include partners or teams that include players with and without intellectual disabilities competing together.

When asked her favorite part of participating in the Polar Plunge, Allyson mentioned all of the people and the creative costumes they wear.  “I have fun meeting new friends, and of course raising money for Special Olympics Illinois,” she added.

Some of the friends she has made throughout her years of participating are local members of the Illinois Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR), like Stephen Brown, a detective with the Bloomington Police Department. Detective Brown has been involved with the Illinois LETR for the past 15 years.

“The best part of being involved with the Law Enforcement Torch Run is creating relationships with athletes from around the state and seeing the joy LETR brings to them,” said Brown.

The Illinois Law Enforcement Torch Run is the single, largest year-round fundraising movement benefiting Special Olympics Illinois. The Torch Run has two goals – to raise money and to gain awareness for the athletes who participate in Special Olympics Illinois. The Polar Plunge is one of the signature events for this group.

The Law Enforcement Torch Run also includes an annual intrastate relay conducted by officers representing every branch of law enforcement within the state as well as federal partners. Approximately 3,000 officers carry the Flame of Hope nearly 1,500 miles, to its final destination – the Opening Ceremony of the Special Olympics Illinois Summer Games here in Normal, Illinois.

“It all comes full circle when I get to cheer my friends on at their competitions, and then see how excited they are to have us there to support them,” added Brown. “And the hugs! The hugs from the athletes are the best.”

Special Olympics Illinois offers year-round training and competition in 18 sports for more than 23,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities and over 13,000 Young Athletes ages 2-7 with and without intellectual disabilities. The organization transforms the lives of people with intellectual disabilities, allowing them to realize their full potential in sports and in life. And, it seems to have the same effect on its volunteers as well.

“The athletes I have met along my journey have been life changing to me. To see how hard they train all year, no matter what obstacles they encounter, is inspiring. These athletes all live by their athlete oath of ‘Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.’ This goes for their competition as well as their daily lives,” Detective Brown concluded. “That determination and positivity is something we could all use a bit of.”

If you would like to participate in the 2022 Illinois Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Polar Plunge in Bloomington, you can register at bit.ly/BloomingtonPlunge. For additional information, including other Polar Plunge locations, athlete stories, and more, visit plungeillinois.com.