Crazy Cold is no Match for Citizens on a Mission for Special Olympics NY

Feb. 2013: The morning skies in Fishkill were grey and ominous, snow showers pouring generously from on high as the Happy Hudson Valley Mobile made tracks into the Sharpe Reservation. Ahead, Mahoney's Irish Pub bus-o-fun was unloading several dozen men still buzzing from the ice breaker party the night before. The outfits were crazier, the water (we speculate) was colder and the stakes were even higher. Director of Development Theresa Gilli gave us a synopsis of this year's ambitious monetary goals; a feat she works tirelessly towards each year in support of Special Olympics New York.

Now in its 15th year, the Fishkill Polar Plunge to benefit Olympians from the Hudson Valley brought over 600 participants and raised over $135,000 in donations - in effect topping figures from last year's plunge. 36,000 athletes compete from the Hudson Valley region in the New York Special Olympics. Monies raised will help with transportation and uniforms for the competitors.

Why February?! The cold is the fun part! Just ask Team Rubber Ducky who raised over $1,000 dollars and dressed in their best aqua gear, spending much of the morning standing on deck in the warming tent. We would know because that's where we spent most of our morning, too!

And, it was cold...bitterly cold. Somewhere in the high twenties, an improvement however from 2012 event day's 60-mile-per-hour wind gusts. My fingers began freezing as I stood waiting near noon for the jumpers to line the docks. Campbell Hall's Kevin Strommer was one of the first people to make his way down to the lake. His Knights of Columbus club was #1 in fundraising dollars with $4,500 raised. Strommer was wearing a smile when he described this moment as 'painfully cold'. Pride for monies raised overcame him as he explained that Knights of Columbus Supreme Council will match the dollar amount. Great work!!

The Anderson Center for Autism’s team congregated by the lake to mentally prepare. Team “A Bit Chilly” included Special Olympics program coordinators along with other Anderson staff and friends. The team raised over $2,000, and shared joyfully in the mission of the day as a whole. The Anderson Center for Autism program has 85 competing athletes - they send a relay team from the Hudson Valley region to the State Summer Games for track and field. Amanda Coons is a behavior analyst and athletic coach:

The support and continued dedication (of Polar Plunge) to provide these opportunities for our athletes is incredible. As a coach I see first hand the benefits that S.O. offers our athletes. The power of sport is much deeper than an opportunity to enjoy physical fitness, there are as equally important intrinsic benefits like belonging to team, building self-esteem and confidence that have helped our athletes continue to become the best they can be both on and off the field.

(So, Amanda! Why Jump into freezing water?!)

 Jumping into the freezing cold water in February is the least I can do to give back to an organization that creates so many wonderful opportunities for so many individuals; it’s a win-win feel good cause for everyone involved.

Amanda (12), Brianna (12), Jessica (12) from G.S. troop10332 in Beacon were official volunteers at the Polar Plunge 2013

I am always amazed by the turn-out at this event and so inspired  thinking about those athletes willfully competing, pushing past their obstacles and enjoying a moment as champions in the company of their peers. Thanks to all of the sponsors, event organizers and the Sharpe Reservation as well as the 600+ participants who have made this happen 15 years in a row! I take pride in this and the many events that show our sense of community and give-back is stronger than ever. Great Job Hudson Valley!

Article by: Stefanie Pearl

Plunge Photos by: Charles A. Merrihew