Twenty years after the Special Olympics Polar Plunge began, Chicagoans continue to brave the icy waters of Lake Michigan to partake in what has become a Chicago tradition.
The plunge serves as a fundraiser, with proceeds going to Special Olympics Chicago and Special Children’s Charities. The money is raised by teams of plungers, who sometimes don silly costumes or bring props as they sprint into the freezing lake on a chilly morning in March every year.
In the 2020 celebration, plungers raised over $2 million on the Polar Plunge’s 20th anniversary.
The Chronicle caught up with some of the individuals before and after they took the plunge to learn why they participate and, in some cases, what keeps them coming back year after year.
Anthony Rossini: Why are you plunging today?
“[At] my company, we like to try to stay involved in the communities and … support good causes. So we gathered a team today and came out to support the Special Olympics,” said Anthony Rossini, who was attending his first Polar Plunge.
Tim Carr: Why do you keep coming back to the Polar Plunge?
“I love it,” said Tim Carr, who has participated in this event for the past six years. “That water is so cold, it feels like a thousand needles pricking you.”
Joe Bovg: Why are you plunging today?
“I’m plunging for my wife’s company, ASNOA Insurance, and for the Special Olympics. … I raised $450,” said Joe Bovg, who plunged with the names of donors painted onto his arms.
Audra Rohe: What makes this event so exciting for you?
“You’re raising money for a good cause, everyone is doing the same thing, and there’s nothing more invigorating than just challenging yourself, being brave and jumping into the lake,” said Audra Rohe, who dresses like Dolly Parton every year.
Kent Christianson: Do you have a strategy going in?
“Breathe intentionally, like Wim Hof breath,” said Kent Christianson, referring to a meditative breathing technique which some claim helps hem better withstand low temperatures.
Dustin Hoban: Why are you plunging today?
“A friend of mine, Tim Carrig … raised a bunch of money here for his son … and I joined up with his team [Kidds Krue], and I’m excited to take the plunge with them.”