Plunge Resources Stories

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.”