The air temperature for the Special Olympics Polar Plunge at Northwestern University was a balmy 28 degrees one Saturday in February. A Northeast DuPage Special Recreation Association plunging team of 16 raised more than $6,000 to support Special Olympics.
The team dressed as flag football players in blue-and-white jerseys with yellow flags hanging from their waists. Mike Klufetos, the team's top fundraiser, opened the plunge by running a short pass route into Lake Michigan as the football and the team flew into the lake. The plunge, into 32-degree water, lasted all of 10 seconds.
This was the first year a NEDSRA team signed up for the polar plunge, and it was the idea of Recreation Coordinator Sean Tovey, who manages the Special Olympics sports program at NEDSRA.
"I thought it would be a great opportunity to give back to the organization that develops and runs our state tournaments in Illinois," Tovey said.
He lobbied for staffers, NEDSRA participants, and family members to join the team and raise a minimum of $75, thus earning each participant a coveted red plunging sweatshirt. He then implored the team to be bold and embrace the cold.
The team traveled by van to the event at Northwestern's beach in Evanston. A total of 315 plungers raised more than $86,000 for Special Olympics. Northwestern Wildcats head football coach Pat Fitzgerald was on hand to greet the chilled NEDSRA athletes after the plunge.
Tovey predicts that NEDSRA will be back next year with an even bigger team.
"It was a great experience," Tovey said. "I even got my dad involved."
NEDSRA won the Best Costume prize for the football theme and was awarded a white polar bear holding a plunger.
"We are nicknamed the NEDSRA Huskies, so I will be challenging more athletes to take the icy plunge next year," Tovey said with a smile.