Polar Plunge: Teams take a cold dip at Geist to raise funds for Special Olympics


On a beautiful, blue-sky Saturday morning, a crowd gathered at Wolfies Grill Geist on Feb. 17, braving the icy parking lot and mingling on the snow-covered outdoor deck. Most wore appropriate winter coats, gloves and boots, but a few were in costume, dressed as Ghostbusters, the cast of The Little Mermaid and, randomly, a rat.

They were there to either watch people jump into a pool of freezing-cold water, or to be one of the jumpers raising money for Special Olympics of Indiana.

The annual Polar Plunge fundraiser started about 25 years ago, Director of Marketing and Communications Joe Frollo said, and each plunger commits to raising at least $99 for Special Olympics. All the funds raised go to the state organization, he said, which help ensure that Hoosiers with intellectual disabilities have the opportunity to participate in sports.

“It’s one of our biggest fundraisers of the year, if not the biggest,” Frollo said. “Something that people don’t really know is that with Special Olympics, there’s $0 that we charge for activities fees. So, if an athlete wants to play basketball or bowling or anything, we do not charge them or their families — we are run entirely on donations.”

Special Olympics Indiana serves about 16,000 athletes with the help of more than 10,000 coaches and volunteers.

Nineteen plunge events in Indiana began in early February and run through March 2, with the final one at Eagle Creek Park, Frollo said. The goal is to raise $1 million. Although the Polar Plunge has been taking place throughout the state for the last quarter century, this is the first year an event has been held at Geist.

Around 150 people signed up for the new Geist Polar Plunge. Among them was a team from Fishers High School — the Freezin’ Fishers Tigers – consisting of students and supporters of the Champions Together Club, a combination of students from general education and special education programs.

Patrick Schooley is dean of students at FHS, coach of the school’s Unified Track and Field, and sponsor of Champions Together. He’s plunged multiple times in support of Special Olympics.

“The very first time I jumped, there was like a million needles. It was miserable,” he said. “The worst part was probably my feet were frozen for about two to three hours afterwards. It takes a while for them to thaw out, but it’s not bad.”

Schooley’s son, Colin, has been part of Special Olympics for many years, he said, and at 23 continues to participate in the nonprofit’s sports.

“He’s done all the sports — he’s done basketball, soccer, softball, unified track and field,” Schooley said. “When he was a student at Fishers High School, he did all the unified sports that we had. So, that’s why I got involved, because he started with Special Olympics athletics when he was 8 years old, and he’s been doing that ever since. We’ve been plunging since 2009, to help him and his peers have these opportunities.”

Although the Feb. 17 event took place at Geist, the plungers didn’t jump into the reservoir — Frollo said that would have required a much more complicated level of liability insurance. Instead, they set up a small pool at Wolfies, with ladders and platforms for jumpers to launch themselves into the frigid water and then haul themselves out on the other side. Safety personnel were on hand to help, including one in the pool wearing diving gear as protection from the cold.

Each plunger handled their jump differently. Some, despite the snow and ice on the ground, stripped down to bikinis before jumping. Others remained in their clothes, or even their costumes. One young man dressed in a dolphin costume took a flying leap into the small pool, landing belly first with an icy splash. No matter how they entered, though, they all made a fast exit and headed quickly to the changing rooms to dry off and warm up.

For more about the annual Polar Plunge fundraiser, visit soindiana.org/polar-plunge.

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The Freezin’ Fishers Tigers from Fishers High School were among the teams participating in the 2024 Polar Plunge benefiting Special Olympics of Indiana. (Photos by Leila Kheiry)

Special Olympics reaches far

Special Olympics is a global organization that provides athletic opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities. The founding organization began in 1968, according to the Special Olympics website, just one year before Special Olympics Indiana.

“There are as many as 200 million people with intellectual disabilities around the world,” the website states. “Our goal is to reach out to every one of them and their families, as well. Special Olympics does this through a wide range of trainings, competitions, health screenings and fundraising events. We also create opportunities for families, community members, local leaders, businesses, law enforcement, celebrities, dignitaries and others to band together to change attitudes and support athletes.”

According to the website, participating in athletics helps boost confidence and improves overall health.

“In Special Olympics, the power and joy of sports shifts focus to what our athletes can do, not what they can’t,” the website states. “Attention to disabilities fades away. Instead, we see our athletes’ talents and abilities and applaud them for all that they can do.”

For more, visit specialolympics.org.