Special Voices: Volunteers crazy about Special Olympics

Later this month, the Polar Plunge season benefiting Special Olympics will kick off with the annual Super Plunge on Feb. 19.

This is a time where we raise awareness on how Special Olympics transforms lives for those of us Special Olympics athletes, and it’s a time to raise funds for Special Olympics. This is the time where individuals in 19 communities across Illinois will be “freezin’ for a reason.” Those who will be taking part in the Polar Plunge will be educating our communities about Special Olympics, as they change the game for a more accepting and inclusive community.

Take, for example, a few years ago, when I had the opportunity to attend a Super Plunge event.

I was there as a podcaster, giving listeners a sound-seeing experience through audio of what a Polar Plunge is about.

While attending the Super Plunge I got the chance to meet a few of the brave people who, despite the frigid temperatures, took that plunge into Lake Michigan.

One of those super plungers was Dwayne English, a Joliet Police officer. English had chosen to participate in the Super Plunge for a personal reason. His son, Cole, has Down syndrome and is involved as an athlete in Special Olympics.

“This is just a wonderful program that my wife and I have been a part of for the last 10 years,” English said. “This is just a great event that brings crazy people together.”

During the Super Plunge, there is a huge white tent on the North Beach, located on the campus of Northwestern University in Evanston. It is in this tent where the super plungers go and get warmed up before each plunge. Every hour, once an hour, for 24 hours, Super Plungers, like English, leave the warmth of the tent and walk or run like a herd of cows into the freezing Lake Michigan waters.

“The wind is blowing off the lake,” English said standing inside a heated tent just yards away from the lake. “It’s just a horrible wind. But we only go out there once an hour and we’re only in there for a few minutes.”

Like many who are taking that plunge into the frigid cold water, they do this to raise money and awareness for Special Olympics. As the super plungers learn about Special Olympics, they learn increasingly about the challenges and joys that those of us with special needs experience in daily life. Those participating in the Polar Plunge are beginning to change the world. They are spreading knowledge about the importance of accepting and including those of us with special needs.

I hope that you will learn more about the Polar Plunge, perhaps support someone taking the plunge or take the plunge yourself. Once you do, you will begin to change your community to be a more accepting and inclusive place for everyone. Join me, let’s change the game and get involved with the Polar Plunge.

Daniel Smrokowski was born three-and-a-third months premature and was diagnosed with learning disabilities and a severe language disorder.  He is an Athlete and Global Messenger with Special Olympics Illinois on the Southeast Association for Special Parks and Recreation team.  Daniel is the founder of Special Chronicles nonprofit new media company, a pioneering network that gives respect and voice to people with special needs. Come join us at www.SpecialChronicles.com.

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