“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
At a special education department meeting late last fall, a co-worker presented our group with an opportunity to make a difference and have a little fun doing so. A Polar Plunge for Special Olympics was the offer on the table and with enthusiasm twenty-two individuals from our district - a combination of administrators, teachers, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, social workers, and 1:1 assistants - pledged to raise money for this worthy cause and the amazing individuals that benefit from what the organization has to offer.
A couple more months passed before our efforts began in earnest. One Night on Broadway, a few evenings passing out fliers at Pizza Hut, three separate soup lunches offered to coworkers in our staff lunchrooms, a trivia night fundraiser, and lots of individual canvassing for personal donations later, our team of twenty-two stood proud today as it was announced that we had brought in over $16,000 for Special Olympics Illinois. To think that we accomplished this feat in a little over three months time - thanks entirely to a little hard work & perseverance and an unspeakable amount of generosity from friends, family, and local businesses - is astounding. I spent a good part of today with goosebumps running up and down my arms, and it had little to do with the cold lake water or brisk winter breeze.
Like any adventure that I initially think is a great idea (see: half-marathon, Warrior Dash), I spent a good portion of the morning declaring "This is so stupid". My friend and trivia night co-coordinator Jen is largely to blame, but I've since forgiven her. She is my lifeline to sanity at work, so it would have really created problems had I decided to stop speaking to her.
Despite this almost constant declaration, a couple of hours away from the big plunge I was the picture of confidence, full of energy and enthusiasm for the upcoming adventure. Had you been standing next to me just two hours later you would know full well that this confidence was no where to be found. Anxiety and trepidation mixed with a little bit of fear? Those were present in abundance.
We passed the time in the staging area taking pictures and calming each other's nerves. This is a picture of one of my students. Yesterday she earned a silver and gold medal at her swim meet earning her a one way ticket to the State Games in June. The two therapists and two teachers pictured with her here have hearts bursting with pride at how far she has come.
At half past twelve, it was time to make our way to the plunge site. Spectators and plungers alike boarded school buses and after two near death experiencing within thirty seconds (car versus school bus and school bus versus ditch) we arrived on site. This handy visual did little to calm my nerves, but lack of ice on the lake at least provided some solace.
The General proved again to be a loving, loyal husband, dragging our two girls around with him while witnessing me take part in ridiculous behavior. I know few want to hear this lovey dovey nonsense, but his support (and that of ours girls) means more to me than I think he realizes. He was tasked with the very important job of documenting my full body plunge to prove to those who donated that I did, in fact, make good on my promise to go "all the way" after doubling my fundraising goal to $500. Unfortunately for all of us, prime spectator viewing locations were severely lacking. He was able to get a few spectacular pictures of the brush bordering the banks of the lake but few quality snapshots of my actual plunge. Luckily I was able to borrow a few off of Facebook from fellow teammates.
Here we are walking into place followed by a picture of 21 polar bear eared individuals ready to hit the water. I wasn't screaming yet, but I was wringing my hands compulsively. I really wanted to run at full speed into the water but that was strictly forbidden.
We had a solid plan to have those who were going for complete submersion to be at the front of the pack so they could get the farthest out from the shore. Once in position in the water we were going to go under together at the count of three. It sounds like a good plan in theory, and perhaps that is what actually took place. I sort of blacked out somewhere between my first step toward the water and walking into the warming tent. Here's what I do remember: I started screaming in fear (literally, screaming in fear) with my very first step toward the lake and did not stop until my head went under water 20 seconds later. I had a death grip on my friend's hand and she tried in vain to shake herself free, but with each shake I only held on tighter. She finally turned to me and yelled, "You have to let go of my hand!" and the next thing I know I was under water. I don't even remember how it happened. Maybe one second passed before I was struggling back to the shore, realizing immediately that my left water shoe was half-way off my foot. Not cool.
That person in green is me walking in. That hand I'm holding on to like my life depends on it belongs to my friend, Jen. My theory was that since she got me into this mess I was holding her directly responsible for getting me out of it.
And this is me (far right) struggling to get out. The muddy bottom had pulled my toes free from the shoe leaving it barely hanging on to my foot by the strap across the top.
And this is a picture of me finally free of the water thanks in large part to that kind gentleman who gallantly offered his hand in an effort to pull me free from the murky waters. Exiting the water was not one of my more graceful moments.
What follows this picture was a quick removal of the defunct shoe, a mad rush to the warming tent, and a leave-your-shyness-and-insecurities-about-your-body-image-at-the-door very public outfit change. That this all took place in just over 30 seconds is crazy - it went by so fast and was really over before you even realized what was happening. I suppose that's probably a good thing.
Back at the main building, we enjoyed a lunch and then a brief awards ceremony. Our teammate Abby was declared as top individual fundraiser and we were awarded the Golden Plunger for top team fundraisers.
If our calculations are on target, it looks like we will be number three for fundraising in the state for our division. Seriously, how amazing is that?! Collectively, our plunge site raised over $78,000 for Special Olympics Illinois and according to the FirstGiving donation site all plunges across the state have already brought in $987, 554.
Once again, I want to thank all of you who donated to Special Olympics Illinois. In the end, I turned in $763.25 individually. Thank you:
Alison, Gabe & kids
Doc, Clark, & kids
Gramma P & Papa Poke
Katie, Boston, & "kids"
The Bobs: Big Boca & Officer
Mr. & (almost) Mrs. Reid
Tru Stories, Coach & kids
The Perkins family
Adam, Steph & kids
Auntie M and Pa Poke
Jenny, Brian, & Kids
Commish, Jackie & kids
The Bride & Drmmr7
Pebbles (and her mom & dad)
You are all amazing people.