Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Plattsburgh plunges for special players

By: Kevin Morley

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. - Last year, over 350 people crowded the shore of the Plattsburgh City Beach to go for a swim. However, these swimmers were not preparing for a normal summer dip due to the fact that it was a brisk November Day.

Every November, the annual Polar Plunge comes to the city of Plattsburgh and hundreds of volunteers take part in something extraordinary. This year’s event will mark the sixth annual plunge to take place here in Plattsburgh. The goal of the Polar Plunge is to raise money in an effort to support the Special Olympics of New York.  This organization provides individuals with special needs the opportunity to compete against each other in athletic events, something that they could not experience in a normal school setting.

            “Being able to compete in sports is something we all take for granted.” Director of Programs of the Capital District of the North Country, Ryan Miller said. “Through our organization, these athletes finally get to experience competition.”

            In order to support this great cause, an abundance of financial support from volunteers can go a long way. Just last year, there was a total of 35,672 volunteers that donated their time and experience to both the program and the athletes involved.  4,663 of those volunteers served as coaches to aide the astonishing 64,659 athletes that take part in the Special Olympics annually. Although these numbers are both impressive and effective, the organization is always looking to expand.

            A common roadblock that rises when trying to get more people involved is a unique campaign, something that sets an organization apart from the rest. One of the most effective campaigns was evident in the ALS Association with their infamous Ice Bucket Challenge. Participants would post videos of themselves having an ice water bucket dumped on their heads. Upon completion of the challenge the participant would then extend the challenge to his or her friends. This campaign alone spread awareness of the ALS disease to over 440 million people according to

            The Polar Plunge shows similar characteristics to the Ice Bucket Challenge in the sense that it is a unique way for people to raise awareness for a worthy cause. Seeing hundreds of people charge into the freezing waters of Lake Champlain tend to make someone stop and ask why these people are doing such a daring stunt. Director of Developments for the Hudson Valley Special Olympics, Teresa Gilli believes that events such as the Ice Bucket Challenge as well as the Polar Plunge are the most effective ways of raising awareness for a cause. Gilli is ecstatic to have the first annual Polar Plunge take place in the Hudson Valley region on November 14, this year.

            “In my opinion, I think it’s a unique concept.” Gilli said. “I myself have always wanted to jump in the icy cold water, and a lot of people say that it’s on their bucket list.”

            The Polar Plunge has been turning heads for nearly two decades since the original plunge that took place in Fischkill, New York. The pioneer of the plunge, Chris Jamel, would hold the event every February. The opening year, there were a total of 16 participants. Jamel’s creation has now transformed into something monumental and now has upward of 5,000 participants annually.

Since the initial Polar Plunge, the event has not only expanded to various parts of New York, but has also reached other parts of the United States such as Minneapolis and Maryland. No matter where the participants partake in the plunge, they all seem to adore the experience as a whole. Liam Ryan, a Plattsburgh student and member of The Sigma Tau Gamma Fraternity, recalls his first experience with the plunge.

            “I was in my freshmen year and the fraternity had about 20 guys do it.” Ryan said. “We decided to go in speedos and the water was insanely cold. I actually tripped when I was trying to get out of the water.”

            Although there are many individuals like Ryan who choose to take their chances in the arctic like waters, this is not the only way to be involved in the event. There is an area designated as the “plunge zone”, where family members and friends can go to cheer on the hundreds of participants. Alex Zack, a sophomore at PSU, was amongst the “plunge zone” last year and recalls how energetic the atmosphere was.

            “I was just going to watch my friends go in the lake and I didn’t really think much of it.” Zack said. “But right before everyone was about to go in, the crowd went crazy, it was like being at a Yankee game.”

            Zack’s personal experience with the plunge has had a big impact on her and she plans to go in the water herself this year. Her story is a prime example of how effective the Polar Plunge is in reference to raising awareness as well as participation.

            Another way that the campaign attempts to get more people involved can be found through the incentives that they offer to individuals who raise more than the mandatory hundred dollar donation. The incentives range anywhere from a sweatshirt blanket to the highest reward of a Luxe Spinner Carry-On, which entails a donation of at least 5,000 dollars. Despite being small tokens of gratitude to the participants, the incentives act as a source of inspiration for those who donate.  Brendan Thomas, a previous participant, was happily surprised when he received a water bottle for raising 250 dollars.

            “I honestly wasn’t expecting anything.” Thomas said. “I’ve kept the water bottle and it’s nice to have a reminder of what I did that day.”

            Despite the fact that the Polar Plunge is only entering its sixth year here at Plattsburgh, the event has gained significant attention and support over the years. An idea as unique as the plunge can only grow and having a cause as worthy as the Special Olympics will only add to its infamy.

            “It’s not just jumping into icy cold water.” Gilli said. “It’s raising money for a good cause while at the same time being more fun than you could imagine.”

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