By JULIAN MENK
A small group of University of Mary Washington student-athletes participated in the Polar Plunge Winter Fest for the Special Olympics on Saturday, Feb. 7 at Virginia Beach. A huge success, the Polar Plunge raised over $1 million for the fifth straight year to help fund Special Olympic events and athletes.
The UMW student-athletes that attended the Polar Plunge included men’s soccer junior Mike Bennett, women’s cross country and track junior Caroline Cerand, men’s cross country and track senior Tom Hudson and men’s cross country and track senior Jamie van Emmerick. The Director of Athletic Development Philip Pierce also participated in the Plunge.
“The Polar Plunge was an extremely rewarding experience and I learned a lot about the Special Olympic community,” said Hudson. “Our athletes got the chance to talk to a lot of parents about the different Special Olympic programs to set up in Fredericksburg.”
While at the Polar Plunge, the student-athletes got the opportunity to discuss possible Special Olympic events that could be held here at UMW. One potential opportunity included getting the Special Olympic athletes to teach UMW student-athletes how to bowl, a favorite amongst Special Olympic participants.
The Polar Plunge is an annual assemblage of representatives from across Virginia that gather together to raise money for their respective Special Olympic area teams.
“The water was very cold,” said Hudson. “The Polar Plunge strengthened the relationship between Area 11 and UMW Athletics.”
Area 11, the Fredericksburg area Special Olympic team, gained just over $91,000 to be used towards their Special Olympic events throughout 2015.
“The whole experience was amazing, but the most gratifying was connecting with the athletes and families,” said Bennett. “We never would have been able to participate in the Polar Plunge if it was not for the planning by Caroline Cerand.”
The Polar Plunge replaced the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee’s annual “Adopt a Family” project for the second semester.
Junior Caroline Cerand led the charge in planning UMW’s participation in the Polar Plunge by coordinating with the Area 11 Coordinator Tim Doyle.
“It was the most satisfying feeling when I saw all the hard work that I did come together into a reality in front of my eyes,” said Cerand. “It was a big party with ice sculptures, food stands, and thousands of people were dressed up in costumes along the boardwalk in support of the Plunge.”
Portions of the Polar Plunge were captured on Bennett’s GoPro camera, and the footage will be used to gain stronger support from UMW and the Fredericksburg community for next year’s Plunge.
“The athletes were really excited to see that UMW honored its commitment to participate in the Polar Plunge,” said Emmerick.
The UMW Athletic Department raised $2,245.25 in donations for the Special Olympics, achieving 75 percent of the department’s goal of $3,000.
“We got off to a slow start in the donation process,” said Cerand. “We had some trouble with the donation website back in fall of 2014, which largely contributed to the UMW Athletic Department falling short of its goal of $3,000.”
The goal for UMW in the 2016 Polar Plunge is to raise more donations and to get a larger representation from Eagle Nation at next year’s Polar Plunge.
The 2015 Polar Plunge was largely a success because it strengthened the relationship between Area 11, UMW and the Fredericksburg community by allowing the Special Olympic athletes to form memorable relationships with UMW student-athletes and set the stage future events.