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UWRF Athletics Department ready to take polar plunge

March 7, 2014

Last year, members of the swim team took the plunge for the Special Olympics.
Last year, members of the swim team took the plunge for the Special Olympics. This year, 12 Falcons will take the plunge on Saturday, March 8, in Eden Prarie, Minn. (Photo courtesy of Justin Anderson)

It takes a lot of guts to jump into a pool of ice cold lake water in early March, but even more heart to take the plunge for a good cause. Twelve UW-River Falls student-athletes and Athletics Department faculty members will be taking the “Polar Plunge” in Eden Prairie, Minn. this Saturday to help raise money for Special Olympics Minnesota.

Over 15,000 people have already taken the plunge in various locations in Minnesota, helping raise $2.7 million thus far with every penny going to the Special Olympics.

Two years ago was Assistant Athletic Director Crystal Lanning’s first plunge. It was also 40 degrees that day, a temperature seemingly out of reach this winter.

“I’m definitely not a cold person,” Lanning said. “But it’s great seeing people do something crazy, knowing that it’s for a good cause.”

Saturday’s plunge will be the third time UWRF athletics has participated in the event. Last year 42 student-athletes and faculty members braved the elements on Eden Prairie’s Riley Lake, helping raise $4,000. But the majority of the football program has opted to stay warm and volunteer to help at the Wisconsin High School Powerlifting Association state championships in Osceola, Wis., this Saturday.

Not all football players and staff opted to stay indoors, however.

“I look forward to doing (the plunge) every year,” said Ryan Kusilek, UWRF sophomore quarterback. “The Special Olympics is such a great cause, and I have worked personally with the athletes in the River Falls branch.” With only 12 members this year, compared to 42 a year ago, the UWRF athletics team will be required to pool their donations together to reach the desired goal of $1,150.

In order to participate in Saturday’s plunge, UWRF athletics members must raise at least $75 each. These funds usually come from family members or friends who can donate online. The donations are required to take the plunge, but they can also serve as a source of encouragement for first-time plungers.

“There’s likely to be anxiety for the first timers,” Lanning said. “Because they don’t know what to expect.”

The state of Minnesota has already hosted 14 Polar Plunges in 2014, the first coming on Jan. 25. The weather for Saturday’s event is currently forecasted to be mostly sunny and 22 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

“I hope the sun’s out,” Lanning said with a smile. “And hopefully we get more student-athletes to sign up.”

All WIAC athletic departments have, or will participate in either Minnesota or Wisconsin’s Polar Plunges. The money raised goes towards the specific state’s Special Olympics, but the plunges are a part of a national cause.

“To do this event is a great way to give back to the athletes and support them,” Kusilek said. “I love it.”

A handful of sports are unable to participate in Saturday’s chilly madness because of scheduling conflicts. The women’s hockey team, for instance, has a good excuse as they will be battling UW-Stevens Point for a WIAC championship.

The 14 plungers will register on Friday afternoon, where they will receive their plunge time. On plunge day, the jumpers will be shuttled into the plunge zone approximately 20 minutes prior to their jump, where they will strip down to their necessary clothing.

After taking the plunge, the jumpers will quickly dry themselves in a heated tunnel before changing back into their street clothes in a heated tent. A bowl of soup and a cup of hot chocolate may be in order for those strong enough to make the leap.

“There is no better way to embrace the Minnesota-Wisconsin winter than jump into a freezing lake, while raising money for a great cause,” said Chris Olson, UWRF assistant football coach. “The Polar Plunge is something that I look forward to every year. It is great to see that many people come together and support such a great foundation that is the Special Olympics.”

The plunges are a part of a year-round fundraising program called the “Law Enforcement Torch Run,” through which law enforcement personnel from across the state raise funds and awareness for Special Olympics Minnesota.

“It’s a good event,” said Phil Martola, UWRF sophomore quarterback. “I did it last year and had loads of fun with fellow teammates.” The Riley Lake plunge has already raised over $96,000. 700 plungers have signed up for Saturday’s event, the most ever. 2014 is the 17th year of the Polar Plunge in Minnesota; the first daring jump came at Como Lake in 1998.

“I look at it as an easy way to help someone out in fulfilling their goals,” Martola said. “Random acts of kindness is what humanity is all about.”

Matt Walker, UWRF head football coach, has supported the Special Olympics since the late 1990s.

“This is a cause that I am very passionate about,” Walker said. “As an undergraduate student, I was very involved with running the Special Olympics event in central Indiana. The joy and happiness that you were able to see from the participants is something that has had a big impact on my life.”