Hundreds Raise Thousands for Special Olympics at Polar Plunge

Neither frigid winds nor icy temperatures nor flurries of snow could stop a record-breaking turnout Saturday for the third annual Highlander Polar Plunge. The 2012 plunge drew 250 registered participants, and pre-plunge donations exceeded $30,000, nearly $10,000 more than was raised at the 2011 event. All proceeds benefited the Special Olympics of the New River Valley.

With the theme of "Seize the Freeze," the plunge was sponsored by the Radford City Police Department, CiCi's Pizza, and the university as a highlight of the 2012 Winter Homecoming weekend.

Most of the RU men's soccer team participated, wearing their uniforms as they gathered on the river bank. Players are accustomed to less-than-ideal conditions for their athletic ventures, and jumping into the New River with near-freezing temperatures and biting winds was no different.


Men's Soccer Head Coach Marc Reeves (front row, third from left) and members of his team took the plunge for a good cause Saturday.

"It's a great unifying event for us," said junior goalkeeper Dane Wilson of Cincinnati, Ohio. "Doing stuff like this together when we're away from the field, jumping in and doing something like this together definitely brings us closer as a team." Wilson, who also participated in 2011, admitted, "It was a bit more scary this time. Last year was a lot warmer."

As a former volunteer with a youth soccer program for special-needs children in his hometown and a babysitter for several years for a child with Down syndrome, Wilson said the feeling of knowing your contribution makes a difference is indescribable. "It's so much just fun to see how much they're enjoying it," he said. "I love it."

Raising money to help the Special Olympics has been a great way for the team to stay motivated, said senior goalkeeper Ryan Taylor of Richmond. "We're definitely excited for it this year," he said. "Last year we didn't know what to expect from it all, but we know this year and are really excited to help out the cause."

Men's Soccer Head Coach Marc Reeves said recruiting volunteers for the plunge didn't take much convincing on his part. "It's just been fantastic," said Reeves, taking his second plunge in as many years. "They really wanted to do it. They want to fundraise, and they want to be part of community service. It's really been great to be able to connect with the students, the community, celebrate Winter Homecoming weekend and help the Special Olympics."


Students, alumni and members of the community took to the icy waters of the New River to raise money for the Special Olympics.

Wearing their letters proudly, members of Alpha Sigma Alpha sorority gathered in support of their sisters taking the chilly dive. Sophomore Holley Barnes of Ashburn was among the first-time plungers, joined by junior Allison Hinke of Leesburg, freshman Erica-Lynn Chambers of Chantilly, and junior Anna Schoenhardt of Fredericksburg.

"A lot of our sisters have done it before, but this is my first time," said Barnes, who was out of town last year and unable to participate. "I'm really excited for this."

The polar plunge was an opportunity for the sorority to further its philanthropic goals. "That's the real reason we wanted to volunteer and jump in this freezing water," Hinke said. "We really wanted to do something to make a difference."

Radford's chapter of Phi Sigma Kappa (PSK) fraternity raised more than $2,100 for the event, and their brothers from the neighboring Virginia Tech chapter joined them for the plunge. "For all of us to be together and do such a great thing together, there's no words to explain it. We're doing something amazing for a great cause," said Radford PSK senior Kyle Kearney of Stafford. "This has been one of the shining moments of my college career."


Sisters of Alpha Sigma Alpha head to the river for their turn in the Highlander Polar Plunge.

Said PSK brother Matt Allen, shivering on the riverbank in just his shorts, "This is seriously one my favorite things to do. I can't miss it."

Senior Courtney Urano of Fairfax huddled under a large Radford blanket with fellow Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority sisters Ali McNaught, a junior from Chesapeake, and Paige Swientisky, a junior from Centerville. "We're crazy, we're just crazy!" Urano screamed.

McNaught, a volunteer coach for the Special Olympics when she was in high school, said she participated in a similar fundraiser in Virginia Beach but was making her first Highlander Polar Plunge.

"This is really nice to be able to help and raise money, and it's really nice to be able to do it with my sisters," McNaught said. "It’s a great turnout, and looks like we've been able to raise a lot of money."

For more information, visit the Special Olympics website.

Feb 25, 2012
Keith Hagarty