Cold for a cause: Inaugural Polar Plunge benefits Special Olympics Michigan

Manistee's inaugural Polar Plunge saw 42 plungers brave the frigid pool outside the Little River Casino Resort. (Dylan Savela/News Advocate)

Manistee’s inaugural Polar Plunge saw 42 plungers brave the frigid pool outside the Little River Casino Resort. (Dylan Savela/News Advocate)

MANISTEE — Thomas Wisuri said it best as he emerged from the frigid cold pool outside the Little River Casino Resort on Saturday afternoon.

“Special Olympics,” he shouted, soaked, shivering and with a fist in the air. And he was speaking for everybody — including 41 fellow plungers — who made Manistee’s inaugural Polar Plunge a great success.

“It was awesome,” the Special Olympic athlete said afterward. “It was so cold, but it was fun. (I did it because) I love the Special Olympics so much.”

Love and fun was certainly in the air for an event designed to raise both funds and awareness for Special Olympics Michigan. Sponsored by the Michigan Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR), the first-ever local event raised over $19,000 for Special Olympics Michigan Area 24, benefiting athletes in Manistee, Mason and Lake counties.

“I’ve been doing this for 10 years now, ” said James Dennis, executive council member of the LETR, “and I can tell you that this one went incredibly well for a first plunge.

“Little River went completely above and beyond in hosting this event,” he added. “This venue is as good as any plunges in the state, and the community really came out to embrace the cold for an incredible cause.

Each year, the LETR Polar Plunge series challenges thousands of people to jump into freezing waters, at numerous locations around the state. Manistee was one of 28 Polar Plunge hosts in 2018.

During the event, local residents and businesses raise money to benefit the Special Olympics, including Plunge participants who each aim to raise at least $75 in pledges for their icy cold dip.

“Special Olympics changes lives for these athletes,” Dennis said. “You see people with intellectual disabilities just come out of their shell, even to the point of deciding they’re going to get their diploma later in life.”

Lois Arnold, president and CEO of Special Olympics Michigan, addressed the crowd during the “After Splash Bash” that followed Saturday’s plunge, which included food, a silent auction and an awards ceremony.

“Special Olympics offers sports training and athletic competition opportunities to children and adults with intellectual disabilities at no cost to the athletes or their families,” she said. “Through the support of generous people like yourselves, individuals are given opportunities to develop and improve their physical fitness and motor skills as well as enhancing self confidence.”

Local law enforcement — including the Manistee County Sheriff’s Office dive team during the plunge itself — showed support for the event. Several students and staff from Bear Lake Schools were also active participants in raising funds and awareness for the cause

Donations to benefit Special Olympics through Polar Plunge are still be accepted online at plungemi.com.

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Posted by Dylan Savela

Dylan is the county reporter for the News Advocate, he also is in charge of the Small Town Life, religion and senior pages. He can be reached at (231) 398-3111 or dsavela@pioneergroup.com.

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