Polar Plunge Stories

About the Plunge


About the Plunge

Each year, the Polar Plunge brings together thousands of warm-hearted individuals from across the state.  It’s a great way for everyone – individuals, organizations and businesses – to support Special Olympics Illinois.  All funds raised go to provide programing and events for more than 23,100 traditional athletes and 13,000 Young Athletes participating in Illinois.

The 2021 Polar Plunge will look a little different, with Plungers committing to Plunge At Home in support of the Special Olympics Illinois mission. Learn more about what a Plunge At Home looks like here.

How to Participate?

The concept is simple: participants raise a minimum of $100 in donations from friends, family and co-workers in exchange for getting icy for the athletes of Special Olympics Illinois!

Under 18, no problem! Individuals under the age of 18 are able to participate but must have a parent or guardian sign a waiver form.

Attire: Anything goes, except a wetsuit.  Costumes are encouraged.

Each plunger who raises $100 or more receives an exclusive 2021 Polar Plunge sweatshirt, plus the chance to win additional prizes for raising more money.

Polar Plunges for 2021 should be completed by March 14.

What it Takes to be a “Plunger”?

Anyone with a little guts and a warm heart wanting to support Special Olympics athletes is welcome to participate. In past years, participants have included children and adults, football players, mayors, police chiefs and officers, sheriffs and deputies, corporate employees, civic organizations, high school clubs, fraternities and sororities, media personalities and everyone in between.

What Puts the “Icing on the Lake”?

More than $24 million that has been raised by more than 84,000 Plungers since the event’s inception 22 years ago.

Its purpose is to simply raise funds to enhance Special Olympics’ mission: To provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families and other Special Olympics athletes and the community.

When and Where the Plunge “Broke the Ice”?

  • 1999: The Plunge started in Lake Bluff and was a huge success, with 150 Plungers raising more than $34,000.
  • 2000: A second Plunge added at Lake of the Woods in Mahomet. That combined with Lake Bluff event, saw 280 Plungers raise more than $79,000.
  • 2001: A third Plunge was added at Rend Lake in Southern Illinois. Combined, there were 234 Plungers who raised more than $95,000.
  • 2002: A fourth Plunge was added at Lake Decatur. Combined, there were 317 Plungers who raised more than $121,000.
  • 2003: Three more Plunges were added in Galesburg, Manteno and Springfield. Combined, the seven Plunges had 524 Plungers who raised nearly $191,000.
  • 2004: Five more Plunges are added in Yorkville, Carlyle, Effingham, Peoria and Quincy. In total, the 12 Plunges had 1,073 Plungers who raised more than $292,000.
  • 2005: Two new Plunges were added in Rockford and Palatine, bringing the total to 14 Plunge sites. Nearly $420,000 was raised by 1,429 Plungers
  • 2006: Evanston was added to the locations for Plunges hosting both a single-time Plunge and the SUPER Plunge, where participants Plunge once an hour every hour for 24 hours. In total, 1,625 Plungers raised more than $539,000.
  • 2007: A Plunge was added at Fox Lakes and the Peoria Plunge was relocated to Bloomington. At the 16 Plunge locations, 2,050 Plungers raised nearly $638,000.
  • 2008: No new locations were added. Nearly $858,000 was raised by 2,672 Plungers.
  • 2009: A new Plunge was added at Lincoln. Nearly $944,000 was raised by 3,623 Plungers.
  • 2010: No new locations were added. GEICO added as a Presenting Sponsor for the Plunges statewide. For the first time, the Polar Plunges raised more than $1 million and 45 SUPER Plungers raised more than $100,000! In fact, more than $1.3 was raised by 5,154 Plungers.
  • 2011: A new Plunge was added at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, bringing the total of locations to 18. More than $1.4 million was raised by 5,752 Plungers.
  • 2012: Two new Plunges were added in Rock Island and Joliet, bringing the total to 20 locations. More than $1.6 million was raised by 6,288 Plungers statewide.
  • 2013: No new locations added. More than $1.7 million was raised by 6,913 Plungers statewide.
  • 2014: No new locations added. More than $2.1 million was raised by 7,352 Plungers statewide.
  • 2015: Illini Plunge added at University of Illinois Memorial Stadium in Champaign, bringing total of locations to 21 around the state at which to Plunge! First Polar Donut Dash was added to the Southern Illinois University Polar Plunge.  More than $2.25 million was raised by 7,666 Plungers statewide.
  • 2016: New Plunges at Macomb and Oak Brook were added and Donut Dash was added to the Mahomet Polar Plunge. Plunges at University of Illinois and Lake Bluff were dropped. Evanston and SUPER Plunges were relocated to Clark Street Beach. Minimum amount to plunge raised to $100.
  • 2017: A new Plunge at Mendota was added and the Polar Donut Dash expanded to include the Carlyle Lake Polar Plunge.
  • 2018: Plunge returns to University of Illinois campus and the addition of a Polar Plunge in Belleville. Donut Dash was added to Joliet Polar Plunge. Plunge at Lincoln was dropped bringing total of locations to 23.
  • 2019: Two new Plunge are added in Peoria and Eastern Illinois University; taking place on the front lawn of the Peoria Civic Center and EIU Campus. EIU offers the only opportunity in the state to take part in the “glow-plunge”! The SUPER Plunge and Evanston Plunge are both returning to the beach of Lake Michigan on the campus of Northwestern University. The Plunge at the University of Illinois has been dropped bringing the total number of Plunge locations to 23.
  • 2020: The Peoria Polar Plunge will be relocated inside of Dozer Park in downtown Peoria. The facility is home of the Peoria Chiefs, the Class A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals. A Plunge was added in Braidwood replacing the Joliet Plunge. Eastern Illinois University will also host a Plunge on campus bringing our total number of Plunge locations to 25.
  • 2021: Plungers can now Plunge at Home to support the athletes of Special Olympics Illinois. At Home Plungers raise $100 in donations online and then pick their date, time and location to Be Bold to Get Cold at home!

*Please be safe with your Plunge At Home choices. Special Olympics Illinois is not responsible for any injuries that occur while participating in the Plunge At Home option. Learn more here.*

Super Plunge Celebrates 15 Years of Jumping into Icy Waters

Mary Pocuis carry’s the Eternal Flame.

February 21st at 1:00 p.m. sharp, a group of 46 SUPER Plungers began the first of 24 icy dips into Lake Michigan over 24 hours, all to benefit the athletes of Special Olympics Illinois.

This year, the SUPER Plunge celebrates its 15th year of bringing individuals – from all walks of life – together for one common cause. Among the group was a first-time SUPER Plunger, Director of Illinois State Police, Brendan Kelly, and as well as longtime SUPER Plungers Mary Pocuis and Mike McDermott.

For most, this event may seem unbearable or impossible, but for Brendan, Mary, and Mike, it is just another way to give back to the athletes.

Mary Pocuis and Mike McDermott center.

“The men and women who serve in the Illinois State Police believe in the best of humanity and lifting people up, so supporting Special Olympics Illinois is a natural fit,” said Director Kelly.

Director Kelly and his team are looking forward to continuing to SUPER Plunge next year and for years to come. They hope to become as experienced as Mary and Mike, who have been plunging since the event’s inception, 15 years ago.

For Mary, the experience is a subtle reminder of why continuing to plunge is so important. “We do crazy things, for all the right reasons,” said Mary. “It’s about the athletes that we serve here in Illinois.”

Illinois State Police are our heroes no matter what uniform they wear!

Being a leg leader for DuPage County, Mary tries to gain as much continued support as possible from her fellow officers. She does not ask her fellow officers to support something she would not do herself.

As of the 2020 SUPER Plunge, Mary and Mike’s warm hearts have taken 360 plunges over 15 years – a record here in Illinois.

“I would have never stayed this long without the great people involved in the Torch Run that keep us motivated to jump in the freezing lake,” said Mike.

Illinois State Police take the Plunge

After 24 hours of plunging into ice-cold water, morale can be low, but not for this group. They pulled through until the end, raising over $131,000 with 46 total SUPER plungers. The SUPER Plunge could not have been a success without the help of many contributors, including Statewide-presenting sponsor, GEICO.

As a result of support from first-time plungers like Brendan and long-time plungers like Mike and Mary, the SUPER Plunge has had continued success. On the 24th plunge, Mary turned to Mike and said, “I’m coming back next year, and so are you!”

Athletes Plunge for Athletes


The 50th Anniversary in 2018 was the pivot from the past to the future.  The athletes of Special Olympics were once led by others, and now those athletes lead us into the future. That fact has become more and more evident in the last two years, and the current 2020 Polar Plunge season is a fine example.

When examining the 25 plunge events throughout the state of Illinois, the most popular, colorful, prominent figures, and often highest fundraisers will be athletes of Special Olympics Illinois. Because there are just too many athletes to choose from, we took a closer look at three that embody the “let me brave in the (plunge) attempt,” #BeBoldGetCold attitude.

One such athlete that instantly comes to mind is past Special Olympics Illinois Board member, who hails from Region F in West Central Illinois, Kaylee McLaughlin. When you think of Kaylee, an instant smile appears because a smile is definitely her trademark.  One of Kaylee’s favorite memories as an athlete was when she spoke at the State Summer Games Opening Ceremony.  If you listened to her speak, you could hear that smile in her voice.  It is that same smile and glimmering attitude that has driven her to raise thousands of dollars over the past four years at the Galesburg, Macomb and Rock Island plunges.

Kaylee has been a Special Olympics athlete for ten years and  has competed in bocce, track and field, bowling, flag football, volleyball, basketball, snow shoeing, golf and softball.  Kaylee’s list of unique efforts to raise money for the Polar Plunge is as extensive as her list of sports.  From producing live videos every day for 100 days leading up to the plunge, to selling gnomes, bracelets, and coasters, to giving handwritten letters as thanks for donations, to distributing plunge flyers and photographs of her plunging to 200 local businesses this year, there is no shortage of great ideas.  When asked what one of her favorite fundraising ideas was, Kaylee said, “What I did one year was to tell my online viewers that if my dad hit the very large goal my mom and I set for him, he would plunge in my prom dress!  Guess what?  We have funny pictures of my dad wearing a pink dress!”

Heading down to Southern Illinois to Region J, we meet a newcomer of the Polar Plunge, Saneatha Trice. Saneatha, though, is certainly not a rookie of Special Olympics Illinois, as she has been competing for seven years in swimming, softball, bowling, volleyball, basketball, and snowshoeing.  Two of her brightest achievements both came last year in gymnastics when she made the trip to the USA Games in Seattle, and then achieved a Gold Medal at the World Games in Abu Dhabi, UAE!

As a plunger, Saneatha jumps in the unique chilly dip in Belleville, Illinois labeled the “Dumpster Plunge.”  Plunge participants jump in one end of a very long and spotlessly-clean dumpster, and work their way down to the other end. This particular plunge is a favorite amongst many because it is so unique, and Saneatha enjoys the experience.  Along with plunging, itself, as one of her favorite memories, she claims that her ultimate best memory was when she had the chance to meet and take a picture with the St. Louis Blues mascot, Louie!

Working our way to Blackhawk country, Kurt Noble of Evanston, in Region B, has been competing with Special Olympics Illinois for 40 years. Kurt has participated in track and field, snowshoeing, basketball, bocce, volleyball and bowling, and currently his sports include powerlifting and flag football.  When asked about his favorite memories, Kurt highlights how much it meant to him when his late mother would come out to support him at his events. 

The unique manner and equally sweet demeanor of Kurt shines through in his fundraising and support over the past four years for another Special Olympics Illinois athlete- his wife Lisa.  Lisa competes in bowling, snowshoeing, track and field, basketball, unified volleyball, flag football and bocce.

Kurt and Lisa are equally driven and always ready to accomplish the next task. Together, so far, they have helped to raise close to $4,000 for the athletes of Special Olympics Illinois. 

While Lisa is his star gal, one of Kurt’s favorite memories of plunging was when the Northwestern Women’s Volleyball team came out to support Kurt at his plunge in Lake Michigan at Northwestern University campus in Evanston.

No matter who the athlete is, where they are in the state, or in what body of water they will take that cold dive, you can count on athletes to participate in the Polar Plunge on a large scale to raise money for their own cause.  

Now it is YOUR turn!  Take the plunge. With 25 locations around the State of Illinois, there is one near you. Go to Plungeillinois.com to find your plunge today and #BeBoldGetCold  

Northwestern University to Lend Support for Upcoming SUPER Plunge


After the gold medals have been won and the teams leave Chestnut Mountain, Special Olympics Illinois sets forth on a new challenge – one that dares you to be bold and get cold for athletes across the state. It’s the annual Illinois Law Enforcement Torch Run Polar Plunge!

Last year, nearly 7,000 warm-hearted individuals raised $2,000,000 from February to March. In 2020, those brave enough will have the opportunity to take the frigid leap at 25 different locations throughout Illinois – beginning in Peoria on February 15.

Special Olympics Illinois relies on dedicated LETR members in Illinois for these events—members like Detective Robbi Peterson.

Peterson started attending Law Enforcement Torch Run events in 2008 before eventually becoming the West Chicago Police Department’s LETR liaison. Finding inspiration at the LETR Kick-Off in early 2009, he and his daughter Taylor began taking the Polar Plunge.

“We raised a little over $600 between the two of us,” Peterson explained. “Each year we tried to top the previous and eventually her younger siblings, Isabella and Jayden, joined us.  I also pressured a few co-workers over the years and our group continued to grow.”

After Peterson attended his first International LETR conference in Nashville, he felt further motivated to support Special Olympics.

“The message I received was, ‘What can I do to make it bigger and better?’” 

Peterson’s answer? The SUPER Plunge.

He will be starting his third SUPER Plunge on February 21. The league of nearly 60 SUPER Plungers will jump into Lake Michigan once an hour for 24 hours.

Over the past three years Peterson has joined the SUPER Plunge Committee and aids the group in finding ways to make the event bigger, better, and most importantly more fun for those participating. This year, he had the idea to give thanks and recognize Northwestern University – who unofficially host the event on their campus lakefront.

“I recall last year standing outside getting ready to take a plunge at 9 p.m. and looked up toward the lit up fieldhouse and the entire women’s field hockey team was standing near the window watching us and cheering us on,” Peterson recalls.

“That was pretty cool.” 

Through social media, Haley Zimmerman (the Athletic Trainer for the Northwestern Women’s Volleyball team and friend of Peterson) caught wind of the SUPER Plunge and came to see for herself what it was all about.

“After a few weeks I was already starting to think about next year’s SUPER Plunge. I reached out to Haley and asked about reception I might receive from staff or athletes if we looked at doing an hour where we honored Northwestern.”

A few weeks post-2019 SUPER Plunge, Peterson’s wheels were turning and with Zimmerman’s help the pair secured support from the athletic department. This year, the Women’s Assistant Volleyball Coach, Kevin Moore has agreed to jump with the SUPER Plungers during an early-evening hour of the event, and the volleyball team will come out to support him.

As part of this “Northwestern Hour” additional student athletes, staff and Willie the Wildcat will be on-site to pump up the SUPER Plunge and lend their encouragement to this outstanding group. Special Olympics Illinois athletes from Evanston Special Recreation will join in the fun, too.

When asked why he finds Special Olympics Illinois so important, Peterson laughs because he thinks it should be so obvious.

“To see these athletes grow in confidence and skill, year after year, due to the opportunities provided to them through Special Olympics Illinois is so rewarding.”  

He continues, “Knowing that the little piece we do for them can have life-changing effects is one of the most satisfying things a person can be a part of.”

Each SUPER Plunger is asked to raise a minimum of $2,500 to participate in this extreme event. Registration is now open for all Plunges statewide. For those interested in signing up or making a donation, please visit www.plungeillinois.com or by contact Jim Fitzpatrick via jfitzpatrick@soill.org.

“My involvement with Special Olympics Illinois thru the LETR is something I take great pride in,” says Peterson.

“I can’t think of any reason why Special Olympics Illinois isn’t important.”

Polar Plunge


The 2020 Polar Plunge season will run from Saturday, February 15 through Sunday, March 22.  Registration is scheduled to open on Monday, November 11th.  All proceeds collected by plungers benefit the 23,000 traditional athletes and 17,000 Young Athletes of Special Olympics Illinois.


Bloomington Polar Plunge

Saturday, February 22

Braidwood Polar Plunge

Saturday, March 14


Carlyle Plunge & Donut Dash

Saturday, February 29

Decatur Polar Plunge

Saturday, March 7

Effingham Polar Plunge

Saturday, February 29

EIU Glow Plunge

Sunday, March 1


Evanston Polar Plunge

Sunday, February 23


Fox Lake Polar Plunge

Sunday, February 16


Galesburg Polar Plunge

Sunday, February 23


Macomb Polar Plunge

Saturday, February 29


Mahomet Plunge & Donut Dash

Saturday, March 21


Manteno Polar Plunge

Saturday, March 7


Mendota Polar Plunge

Saturday, February 29


Oak Brook Polar Plunge

Saturday, February 29


Palatine Polar Plunge

Sunday, March 22


Peoria Polar Plunge

Saturday, February 15


Quincy Polar Plunge

Saturday, Februay 22


Rend Lake Polar Plunge

Saturday, March 7

Rock Island Polar Plunge

Sunday, March 15


Rockford Plunge

Saturday, March 7


SIU Polar Plunge

Saturday , February 29



SUPER Plunge

Friday, February 21- Saturday, February 22


Yorkville Polar Plunge

Sunday, March 1