VALPARAISO — Friends don’t let friends plunge alone.
That said, 108 brave souls took a plunge into cold water outside Valparaiso University’s Hilltop Gym for the annual Polar Plunge. As the signature fundraiser for Special Olympics Indiana, “plungers” raised $48,847.69 through pledges and donations.
“It’s kinda fun to challenge yourself to go outside your comfort zone and to do something a little crazy,” said Scott Furnish, Special Olympics Indiana’s senior director of development, "like jumping in a lake in the middle of winter.”
In this case, jumpers descended into a pool outside the VU gym, guarded by police and rescue personnel. Jumpers included VU student organizations and employees, athletes, churches, companies and individuals. The event supports athletic training and competition for 14,000 Hoosier Special Olympians.
Graycor, a Portage-based general contractor, raised $21,667, led by Jay Beere, who brought in $17,917.
“It’s great for the community and it supports other athletes,” said Beere, a DeMotte resident.
Beere and his daughter, Tara, a VU student and team co-coordinator from nearby St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Student Center, jumped first. “They said they threw in snow,” the elder Beere said. “But it was well worth it.”
Tara Beere, a junior at VU, has been involved in Special Olympics since high school but has only recently plunged. “This means a lot,” she said.
Pi Sigma Kappa, a VU fraternity, brought a couple dozen plungers. Landon Fisher, a VU sophomore from Middlebury, Indiana, said Special Olympics is a national cause for the fraternity, adding, “It’s a lot of fun jumping in the pool and raising money.”
Part of the fun is seeing plungers in costumes, from Santa to superheroes. A team from the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City adopted Disney’s “101 Dalmatians” for its theme. Lt. Gene Lasco from ISP came dressed as a big white dog with black spots and floppy ears.
“It’s for the kids — just seeing their reactions and expressions,” Lasco said. “Your adrenaline is pumping, but you don’t realize it.”
Michelle Pickering, a Portage resident and VU grounds employee, was standing beside Nick Karrin, a former classmate and Special Olympian.
“The value of Special Olympics means a lot to me,” said Pickering, a first-time plunger.
Karrin, a basketball player, called Pickering “an awesome lady” for jumping and was grateful for her supporting Special Olympics.
Josh Goeringer, athletic director and coach at Westville High School, brought seven members of the WHS Athletic Council to take the plunge.
“This is a nice bonding event for the council,” Goeringer said, “and it gives kids a sense there is something more important out there.”
First-time jumper Kelly Rayner, 20, a VU junior from Detroit, noted, “My brother is autistic, and I plunged in his name today.”
Kim Szelinski, a Porter County Special Olympian, said through sports, “I make a lot of new friends and we get to travel.”
She added, “It’s awesome that people come out and support us.”