Sunday, July 21, 2024

Polar Plunge raises more than $1 million for Special Olympics


For 25 years, the Virginia Beach Polar Plunge has taken place each winter to benefit Special Olympics Virginia. This weekend, participants faced cold temperatures at the windy Oceanfront to keep the tradition going — and raise more than $1 million for the organization.

To kick off the event on Friday, more than a dozen participating schools took part in the “Cool School Challenge,” where students and teachers charged the chilly Atlantic Ocean for the cause.

Saturday, runners participated in one-mile and four-mile races that ended with an optional splash in an above-ground pool.

Following the race, participants enjoyed a festival featuring live music, games and free warm drinks, and took part in the official afternoon Polar Plunge in to the Atlantic Ocean.

Since the inaugural Polar Plunge took place in 1993, more than 45,000 plungers have raised $11.6 million for the Special Olympics Virginia. This year’s event achieved its goal of raising more than $1 million for the seventh straight year.

“Thank you Virginia Beach for over one million,” Special Olympics president Rick Jeffrey said. “The money is still flowing in and we expect to raise close to $1.2 million.”

According to Jeffrey, the original Polar Plunge began with around 30 men and women, and raised $12,000 for the cause.

Jeffrey gave special mention to the contribution of sponsors and participants from across the state, like Katherine Emmer, who traveled from Quantico to take part.

“This is the first time I’ve ever taken part in the Polar Plunge,” said Emmer, who’s 16-year-old son is diagnosed with autism. “It’s important for me to raise money for my son.”

Emmer was joined by her friend and colleague, Annette Sudbeck, who’s five-year-old granddaughter is also autistic. Together, the two serve as physical trainers for individuals with disabilities.

“We do strength training and help them train for cardio sports,” Sudbeck said. “We are here to support her son, my granddaughter and other individuals with disabilities.”

Sudbeck and Emmer were surrounded by hundreds of runners who had raised money to benefit the Special Olympics.

One-mile race winner Wayne Carney said he raised $150 to contribute to the organization.

“This is my second year running in the Polar Plunge,” he said. “It feels good to raise money for a good cause.”

Carney did not immediately jump in the water after the race, but hundreds chose to take the plunge, including William Bowers.

Bowers said his nephew, who has Down syndrome, was part of what motivated him to participate for the first time this year.

“This is a year to try new things,” he said as as a dried off. “I decided to do this and have fun.”

While many of the participants braved the cold for a friend or family member with a disability, others, like 6-year-old Jolene Kirk plunged for the fun of it.

“She wanted to jump in the water,” Jolene’s mother Mandie said. “For her, this race was about the experience. For me, it was about the charity.”

The two had never attended the event before, but were struck by how many runners came out to participate.

“It’s great to see families and people of all ages running together,” Mandie said. “This has been a really nice family-oriented event.”

Learn more about the annual event at

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