University of Michigan Hosts Annual Polar Plunge



photo from Special Olympics Michigan

Julia Hanselman, Bleu Print Staff

The Polar Plunge is a freezing experience being offered by the University of Michigan to raise money for Michigan’s Special Olympics. The event involves costumes, friends, and a very cold pool. It will take place on February 21 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the university’s famous Big House, and registration is required for participation.

“I’m on the Management Committee for Washtenaw County Special Olympics,” Katy Fillian said. “We’re the committee that kind of plans all of the events for Special Olympics for the county. It’s our major fundraiser of the year so it’s where we get most of our funding for our activities.”

As a member of the management committee for Washtenaw county’s Special Olympics, Fillian is heavily involved in the Polar Plunge and encourages as many people as possible to join.

“A lot of people who aren’t even necessarily connected with Special Olympics, or maybe haven’t participated with Special Olympics before come out,” Fillian said. “I think the fact that it’s at the Big House is kind of fun. Just being on the football field under the lights. It adds a really fun atmosphere to the event. We didn’t used to do it at U of M, and since we’ve started doing it at U of M, it’s just been a really, really special event every year.”

The Big House has not always hosted the Polar Plunge, but ever since the change publicity has kept increasing. This has brought both experienced and inexperienced Special Olympics participants and supporters out in full force.

“When I think about our athletes at the Special Olympics,” Fillian said. “A lot of them face challenges, particularly our athletes with physical disabilities, as they really have to step up to try to overcome those challenges to be able to participate in the sports they love.”

The Polar Plunge is an event held to raise awareness for the Special Olympics and their mission to help out children and adults suffering from mental and physical disabilities. This goal means that they actively encourage everybody, regardless of age or ability to come and give it a chance, as according to Fillian, you never know whether or not you like it until you give it a try.

“The Polar Plunge is a chance for everybody to do something that’s not really in your wheelhouse,” Fillian said. “It’s not that jumping into freezing cold water, outside, in the middle of winter is something any of us would find necessarily pleasurable or easy to do. So in a way it of gives people some insight into what it’s like to have to step up to the plate and overcome your challenges. And in this case, they’re able to do something that might be difficult, all in good fun for a good cause.” 

In order to gain some confidence, as recommended by previous plungers, some may want to try and think of taking the plunge like a hobby. Although not everyone finds the same things to be enjoyable, when tried out it can still provide a boost of confidence and adrenaline, as well as a cool story to share with friends. As we get closer to the date for the Polar Plunge, keep a look out for plenty of fun outfits and experienced polar plunge jumpers.

“It’s kind of like a costume party,” previous plunger Eli Kevari (‘22) said. “Like, a lot of people will compete to see who has the most creative costumes. When we were there, there were these two fully grown men, like big burly guys, in fully knitted onesies. I guess it wasn’t really a onesie, it was more like a leotard.”

While tons of fun, the event at its core is still a fundraiser. As such, if people even want to consider plunging, there are a couple of steps they have to take first.

“If you want to be a plunger, what you have to do is set up through the Special Olympics MI website,” Fillian said. “You will set up a donation page and collect donations from other people in order to plunge. If you get $75 in donations or above, as there are some incentive levels, you’ll get like, a T-shirt. After that, the incentives kind of go up from there. If you are able to raise even more money, spectators are able to come and watch your plunge.” 

Fillian encourages CHS students to sign up or volunteer for the Polar Plunge, as she feels like student participation could really help raise awareness for this important cause.