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Special Olympics’ Polar Plunge celebrates 15th year in Lake Saint Louis

By: Jessica Meszaros


Participants rush the water at a past Lake Saint Louis Polar Plunge [Photo by Julie Long]

The Special Olympics of Missouri [SOMO] is kicking off its organization’s 50th anniversary not only with a champagne toast but with an icy chill.

The 2018 Polar Plunge at Lake Saint Louis will take place on Feb. 3 at Lake Sainte Louise, located near the Lake Saint Louis Community Association. The event is hosted by multiple law enforcement agencies, including the Lake Saint Louis, O’Fallon and Wentzville and St. Charles County police departments. The event also is a project of the Law Enforcement Torch Run, and all proceeds go toward the athletes and programs of SOMO.

The event is just one of many taking place alongside the Special Olympics’ 50th anniversary. In 2018, for the first time in SOMO history, each plunge event will feature a Plunge Athlete Ambassador who is set to compete USA Games in July. Bocce ball player Amanda Koch will serve as the ambassador of the Lake Saint Louis event.

“This year is a really special year because it marks our 50th anniversary with Special Olympics, and it celebrates 50 years of inclusion that has really helped our athletes break down barriers and really experience inclusion and joy through the power of sports,” Amanda Castetter, SOMO’s development manager, explained. “That’s really exciting.”

A polar plunge is a winter fundraising event during which participants enter a body of water in low or freezing temperatures.

“You literally run into the water, you run out and you go change right away,” Castetter said.

Participants at a past Lake Saint Louis Polar Plunge [Photo by Amanda Castetter]

The current goal for the Lake Saint Louis plunge is to raise $125,000 and attract 500 plungers to the event. Participants who register for the plunge also will be admitted to the post-plunge party, which will include a DJ, food and auction items for plungers to bid on.

“We encourage people to come out and watch,” Castetter said. “If they don’t want to plunge, they can do our Too Chicken to Plunge event on the same day, which gives them the T-shirt and access to the post-party. [Either way] we encourage people to come out and watch. It’s cold, but it’s fun.”

The first-ever Special Olympics Polar Plunge fundraiser in Missouri was held in 1996 in Lake of the Ozarks, where about $8,200 was raised for the organization. The first Polar Plunge occurred in Lake Saint Louis in 2004 and raised $40,209. Last year’s Polar Plunge attracted 465 plungers and raised $120,260.

According to Castetter, the annual plunge events raise about $1 million cumulatively for SOMO. It costs SOMO about $473 for a single athlete to compete in a year of Special Olympics events, and proceeds from events help cover costs for necessities like equipment, facility rentals, transportation and meals for over 21 Olympic-style programs.

“All of the proceeds go back to the organization,” Castetter said. “We are very proud that 85 percent of every single dollar goes directly to our programs.”

SOMO offers a variety of athletic and coaching programs, including a Healthy Athletes program that helps provide health screenings and its Special Olympics Unified Sports program that combines athletes with intellectual disabilities and individuals without intellectual disabilities, known as Unified Partners, who train together for athletic competition.

Participants pose for a photo before taking the plunge at a past Lake Saint Louis event. [Photo by Julie Long]

The organization also hosts 255 camps, three statewide competitions and over 1,113 coaches.

“All of the money that is raised here in St. Louis stays in St. Louis for our athletes,” Castetter said. “We have over 15,300 athletes in the state of Missouri, and about 6,500 of those are in the St. Louis metro area. The money we raise at these plunges significantly impacts our community.

“We have 15,300 athletes in the state, but there are over 100,000 people in the state of Missouri that are not participating in the program yet, or maybe they don’t know about it yet,” Castetter said. “We’d really love to increase those numbers and help those who already aren’t involved be included.”

The plunge is family-friendly, but participants must be at least 10 years of age and raise a minimum of $75 each by event day. Participants will be able to change clothes onsite immediately after the plunge at the heated changing rooms inside the Lake Saint Louis Community Association, which is adjacent to the event site. Participants can register and fundraise individually, or take part in the event as a team. Participants can wear athletic clothes, but themed costumes and outfits also are welcome.

To sign up, register a team or for more information, visit somo.org/plunge or call (314) 961-7755.

A team of participants dons themed costumes at a past Lake Saint Louis Polar Plunge. [Photo by Julie Long]

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