A total of 661 people have registered to take the plunge this Saturday and brave the frigid waters of Stephens Lake to raise money for Special Olympics.
The Polar Plunge benefits the Central Area chapter of Special Olympics Missouri, and the event will take place at 2 p.m. Participants can sign up online in advance or register in person at the event.
“The actual day is about fun,” Central Area director Diane Brimer said. “Each group goes to the beach at Stephens Lake, and they’ll have their time on the beach, and then they plunge into the ice-cold water. We also have a post-plunge party so they can get warm and have a little food and just enjoy each other’s company.”
The Polar Plunge is only part of the daylong event. There will also be a “Chicken Run” 5K run/walk beginning at 10 a.m. and a costume parade, which will take place during the Polar Plunge. Various groups in the Columbia community, including the Columbia Police Department, sponsor the event.
Each Polar Bear participant is asked to raise $75 by the event day. Brimer said there are incentives for those that go beyond the minimum requirement, including various donation level rewards and prizes for the top three teams and individual donors.
“It’s hard as an individual to go up against a team that has a costume and a theme,” Brimer said. “We decided we wanted to break it up and have two types of awards- a team award and an individual award.”
Brimer said this year’s fundraising goal is set at $84,000, up 10.5 percent from last year’s $76,000 raised. As of 10 p.m. Thursday, this year’s online fundraising totaled $60,428. The online total will be in addition to fundraised cash and checks presented on the day of the event.
The money will support costs paid by the Central Area division of Special Olympics Missouri.
“We have over 2,200 athletes that we serve,” Brimer said. “The number of athletes keeps increasing each year so obviously the cost to host athletes in competitions goes up.”
Brimer said the funding also supports an increased number of local competitions for the athletes.
“It’s a smaller competition within a local community, and it allows those athletes the chance to come out and participate where they might not have been able to do it before,” Brimer said. “Our local competitions are definitely growing, and this kind of money allows us to go out and provide programming for them.”
Brimer said she is optimistic about this year’s turnout, especially since expected participant numbers are up from last year.
“Last year’s attendance was 430, so even to have 661 people (registered) online, that’s huge,” Brimer said. “It’s very exciting to think we have such a fantastic turnout and support from the community, and the surrounding communities as well."