Getting chilly for a cause at Chicago’s 2017 Polar Plunge

The annual Polar Plunge took place on Sunday, March 5, and my partner and I were there covering it all for you.  That’s right, last weekend we were freezing our butts off to cover the Polar Plunge, a fundraising event where plunge participants jump into Lake Michigan in the midst of winter for a good cause.

The Polar Plunge is a fundraising event created by the Special Children’s Charities, the fundraising branch of the Special Olympics Chicago. The Special Children’s Charities’ mission is to promote, encourage and foster the mental and physical health of adults and children with intellectual and developmental disabilities, according to their website.

To give you a little insight, the air temperature was 40 degrees, and the water temperature was also 40 degrees. Plus, true to Chicago fashion, it was windy, especially along the lakefront. It was warmer than average for Chicago but still, plungers came out of the water gasping for air. However, plungers did not let the cold curb their enthusiasm. They wore a wide array of clothing, from shorts to Superman costumes. These participants enthusiastically and excitedly marched to Lake Michigan to dive to their freezing agony but all for a good cause.

Chicago is not the only place that held a Polar Plunge. Plungers across the continent held their own rendition of the Polar Plunge, including Michigan, Ontario, Massachusetts and Denver.

Although the Polar Plunge caters to a certain clientele (namely those that are enthusiastic about bitter cold), the event has been notable for drawing big name celebrity guests in the past, such as Lady GaGa, Vince Vaughn and Jimmy Fallon. Dax Shepard participated this year, along with actors from Chicago Fire, Chicago PD and Chicago Med. Although we were hoping to have Beyoncé descend from a helicopter into Lake Michigan and transform the water to gold before our eyes, these celebrity guests were okay. Shepard was there wearing a police costume to publicize his upcoming comedy movie Chips.

In a perfect world, this event would have been completely organized, and we would have been able to do everything we needed and wanted to do with ease and grace. However, that very much was not the case. People crowded around the provided coffee vendor and sausage food truck instead of providing event information, though no one but us seemed altogether bothered by this. The most prominent event worker was perhaps the dancing Subway sandwich mascot, who did not seem like a reputable source.

Plungers were hauled and stowed away in a little warming tent (which did seem significantly warmer than the outside air, go technology) as they changed into their super fabulous outfits and nudity would probably get them in trouble.We did not let that put a damper on our moods though, and we busted out our super amazing journalistic abilities and got some answers.

Unfortunately, we were not able to talk directly to Dax Shepard while at the event because he was either preoccupied with assisting the singing of the Star Spangled Bar or exploring Lake Michigan. But I was able later to tweet at Shepard, and he responded. I asked his favorite part of the Polar Plunge, and he responded “getting out of the water J.” I then asked him what made him participate in the Polar Plunge this year but I received no reply.

We also managed to harass some answers out of a very kind and generous Polar Plunge participant. His name is Matt Dirks, and he did the plunge last year as well, though he recalled last year being a little different.

“I just remember it being much colder than this, though the wind isn’t doing us any favors,” Dirks said. “But I’m psyched. It’s hard not be around all these people and all this energy and not feel excited to do this. It’s for a good cause and I love Chicago so yeah, why not?”

We also asked Dirks how he found out about the Polar Plunge, and he said he’s always lived near or in the city and knew this happened every year. According to Dirks, there isn’t much happening in the winter in Chicago, so the Polar Plunge stands out in his mind.

He said that last year he and his friends got corralled into doing the Polar Plunge. We parted ways with Dirks, who lastly noted “the last time I was swimming was last summer here in the lake but it was a little warmer then, but yeah, it’ll be a good time.”

We also managed to get into contact with a former participant of the Polar Plunger. This former plunger is named Zack Joerg, and we asked him some questions about his experience. We first asked him what made him choose to do the Polar Plunge, and he responded that he wanted to do something that benefited an organization.

At the time, he felt like he was not giving back in a meaningful way, and after he discovered that the Polar Plunge invested in the Special Olympics it was a done deal for him. We followed by asking him what was his favorite part of doing the Polar Plunge, and he noted overcoming fear.

According to Joerg, “getting over the idea of jumping into freezing cold water because there was so much excitement surrounding the event that I actually was not nervous when it was time to go running into the ice cold waters of Lake Michigan.”

We ended by asking if Joerg would do the Polar Plunge again and if he would recommend the event to his friends. He claims that he would do it again and that he would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to have fun and bring attention to a worthy cause.

We reached out to the organization to get a press release from this year’s plunge but have not received a reply. So I did some research to find out that the fundraising goal for the Polar Plunge is $1.5 million dollars. Last year, they were able to reach that goal with the help of the many athletes and plunge participants. This year, despite having slightly lowering attendance than last year (about 6,000 people in 2016 and 5,500 in 2015), they have exceeded their goal of $1.6 dollars. If you guys want to donate to the Polar Plunge you can visit their website.

 

Blog post and video done by Jeff Winters & Anna Kreutz

 

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