Huskie Stadium Polar Plunge expected to raise over $10,700 for Special Olympics Illinois

A woman emerges from water during a Special Olympics Illinois polar plunge fundraiser.

DeKALB – An organization known for giving athletes with intellectual disabilities an arena for them to compete in is bringing its trademark fundraiser to Northern Illinois University and DeKalb on Saturday.

Special Olympics Illinois will hold a Huskie Stadium Polar Plunge directly on Brigham Field, where individuals who raise $100 for the nonprofit organization will be able to jump into a water tank provided by the DeKalb Fire Department.

Katie Risley, director of development for Special Olympics Illinois Region A, said polar plunge fundraisers have become signature events for the organization over the past 20 years. The organization provides competition oriented programming and fundraisers for individuals with disabilities in Boone, Bureau, Carroll, DeKalb, Jo Daviess, LaSalle, Lee, Ogle, Putnam, Stephenson, Whiteside and Winnebago counties.

“It’s a unique fundraiser where people sign up to jump into a cold body of water,” Risley said. “We have lakes, we have pools, [and] we have cold weather here in Illinois. Except for right now, it’s not very cold. But it’s been such an incredible fundraiser. So many people want to get involved. They come out in costumes. They form teams. It is just a blast, a lot of fun. People get together and come up with great costume ideas. It is just a great way to raise awareness and funds for Special Olympics Illinois.”

As of Feb. 7, $10,700 has been raised for the fundraiser. NIU’s Alpha Sigma Alpha chapter, a National Panhellenic sorority, has donated $2,800 – more than any other team or individual. In second place, with $2,444, was NIU Phi Kappa Psi; and in third place was the Sycamore Spartans, with $1,340.

Risley said Greek life organizations on NIU’s campus have become competitive with their fundraising for the event and will have multiple teams taking the plunge Presidents Day weekend. However, she said polar plunges have not always been a team affair.

“When Polar Plunge first started, it was a lot of individuals,” Risley said. “But over the years, people are just like ‘Oh, I want to plunge with my family’ or ‘My coworkers and I are doing this, and we’re going to put a costume together, or we’re going to promote our company that we work for.’”

A team of five individuals run toward cold water during a polar plunge fundraiser in this photo provided by Special Olympics Illinois, a nonprofit organization that benefits from the winter time fundraisers.

Although participants are encouraged to preregister for the event and donate the required $100 online, Risley said there will be day-of registration from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. at Huskie Stadium.

The event is not officially sponsored by NIU. Shawn Love, assistant athletic director of marketing for the NIU Convocation Center, said Special Olympics Illinois is simply renting the space from the university for the weekend.

“We are simply renting the space to the organization and we are helping market the event through internal and external channels…that is our extent with the event. We are happy to help support the organization as best we can with all their fundraising efforts,” Love wrote in an email.

The plunge will begin about noon. The water tank needed for the fundraiser will be set up on the field and partially filled the night before, Risley said.

“The rest will be filled first thing on Saturday morning. The weather is a major factor, as you can imagine. We’ve had some years with other polar plunges where the water has been frozen and we’ve had to break ice, and then it refreezes. I mean, we’ve had some very cold years, and we’ve also had some really beautiful weather like we’re having now,” Risley said.

The National Weather Service has projected DeKalb temperatures in the 30s on a mostly sunny weekend. Ricky Castro, a meteorologist for the Chicago National Weather Service office in Romeoville, said the warmer-than-average weather pattern northern Illinois has experienced in early February won’t last all month.

“Despite the fact that we’ve been so mild lately, and will be even milder still over the next couple of days, we’re tracking a change back, a pattern change to more seasonal winter temperatures as we get into the middle of February,” Castro said.

That means the water for the Huskie Stadium Polar Plunge will likely be at an appropriately cold temperature for the fundraiser.

“I think the water’s going to be really cold, and it’s the air temperature’s cold that makes it feel worse,” Castro said. “I think it would be an easier proposition, personally, if the temperatures were like the next couple of days, versus somewhere in the 20s or 30s, which is what appears possible for that time frame.”

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