polar plunge 1
President Dave McFadden, to support the Indiana Special Olympics, tucks his legs in tight as he cannonballs into ice-cold, curiously green water.
Photo by Ashlynn-Kay Brooks

First MU Polar Plunge Raises Thousands for Special Olympics

Chloe Leckrone

On Saturday, Feb. 22, the Center for Service Opportunities hosted Manchester University’s first Polar Plunge to raise money for Special Olympics Indiana.

The Polar Plunge took place on Parents and Family Weekend, so many students and their families gathered outside the PERC on Saturday afternoon to watch Manchester students, faculty and staff, as well as community members, jump into a pool of freezing cold water.

While this is the university’s first time hosting the Polar Plunge, Manchester was invited to the event at Center Lake last year, where 14 MU participants plunged. When trying to recruit students to get involved, Ali Goetcheus, director of Civic Engagement, heard many say that they would do it if it were happening on campus. Over the summer, Buzz Lail, Special Olympics Representative, and Manchester alumnus Mark Sherman reached out to Goetcheus to see if the university would be interested in hosting, and the answer was a resounding “yes.”

As the key fundraiser for Special Olympics Indiana, hosting the Polar Plunge on campus was important to Goetcheus. “They have a message that speaks to our own,” she said.

Cole Nugent, a first-year biology-chemistry major who helped coordinate the event agreed and appreciated that the event supports a local organization. “A benefit that the Polar Plunge provides, that really spoke to me, was that all of the money raised here stays here in Wabash and Kosciusko County,” Nugent said. “Having the Plunge here at MU is incredible because it serves as a middle ground between the two counties.”

The goal, set by the Special Olympics, was $17,000. According to Goetcheus, the unofficial amount raised as of Feb. 25 was $24,191. Manchester’s campus-wide goal was to have 100 plungers, and that is exactly how many entered the water that day. While many were MU students, faculty and staff, there were plenty of other plungers from all over Indiana., including some from Manchester Community Schools, Wabash Community Schools and Indianapolis. There were even a few Special Olympics athletes from the region who came to support the cause.

Organizers of the Polar Plunge encouraged participants to dress in costume as they plunged into the freezing water. Some highlights included Student Life, who dressed in onesies, and Head Football Coach Nathan Jensen, who crouched down in a three-point stance before plunging in his football gear.

Up first was President Dave McFadden, who was costumed in a baseball uniform. Everyone watching counted down as McFadden jumped in. To open with a big splash, he chose to do a cannonball. “It was cool to have that opportunity,” McFadden said. “I felt some responsibility to plunge well and was glad I got some height on my cannonball.” While the cold water might be most people’s primary concern, McFadden quickly realized something else as soon as he entered the pool. “The first shock wasn’t the cold, it was hitting the bottom of the pool,” he said. “It wasn’t very deep, and the bottom came up quickly.”

Along with helping coordinate the event, Nugent also plunged with the other outreach coordinators. Nugent expected to be more upset about the water temperature, but due to the nice weather that weekend, as he said, “the water wasn’t really that cold.”

Libby Kreps, a first-year peace studies major, and Shayla Welch, a first-year math education and peace studies double major, made up another team, along with senior Karly Eichenauer. Kreps and Eichenauer plunged together and recorded their jump as they went in, which made it fun for Kreps to “see the terror on their faces,” as she put it.

Welch decided to get creative with her jump and do a belly-flop. Her immediate response was that she “couldn’t breathe,” but as soon as she was above the water, she felt fine. Afterwards, Welch and Kreps warmed up by showering. “I don’t know if I could have just sat there,” Welch said. “They definitely encouraged people to change right after.”

Welch and Kreps wanted to get involved because the event’s mission aligned with their values. “We are very passionate about making sure people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else,” Welch said. “So of course we wanted to help.”

Both could envision themselves participating in this event again if given the opportunity. “We immediately said that next time we’re going to get all of our friends and make a team,” Kreps said.

Virginia Rendler, a senior peace studies and philosophy major, was not a participant in the Polar Plunge, but had a great time watching alongside others in the crowd. “There was a pretty big splash zone, so the people who were watching got wet too, which was fun,” Rendler said. “It was just nice to see everybody come together do a silly activity for a good cause."