Manchester polar plunge photo
Plungers had the opportunity to dress up in costumes for their jump. One plunger, pictured above, took to the water dressed as a shark.
Photo by Cami Brown

MU Holds Polar Plunge Event to Raise Money for Indiana Special Olympics

Sam France

On a windy, cold Saturday when most students were inside enjoying a warm lunch, Manchester hosted the Polar Plunge. This charity event, named “Freezin’ for a Reason,” benefits Indiana’s Special Olympics, and to offer their support, teams and groups gathered on the PERC lawn on Feb. 12 to prepare for the noontime plunge.

Polar plungers do not jump into the Eel River, which winds behind the university. Instead, MU set up a small above-ground pool filled with ice-cold water. Teams and groups made the event festive with color-coordinated attire: some dressed like penguins; others wore all green; and yet others were in regular clothes. A group of Manchester University alumni and spouses wore pink because one of the group member’s wives has cancer.

Buzz Lail, director of Programs, said that this event is just 1 out of 17 that are held in February and March. “We will have probably 3,500 plungers and try to raise $700,000 altogether,” he said.

Justin Langhorn, the Plunge chairperson, said that the Polar Plunge been going on for “many, many years,” though it is new to MU. “Traditionally it has taken place in Center Lake in Warsaw,” he said.

The Polar Plunge’s reach extends beyond the Special Olympics. “It also helps support health and fitness programs in the state,” Lail said.

There was a variety of people attending the plunge. “The people plunging are from all around the surrounding areas; there are local schools, and some businesses participating,” Lail said. “There is one team with Manchester University Alumni and the team captain Mark Sherman is a chairman of the board of Special Olympics Indiana.”

When the plunging started, people jumped one by one into the water. Some people belly-flopped and did cannonballs while others dropped in and got out as fast as they could. There was lots of shouting as individuals jumped in, and lots of teeth chattering as they got out.

Austin Pence was a first-time plunger. How was his experience? “Cold, it was cold before I even got in, but it’s not as bad as I thought now that I’m inside,” he said, shaking. “I’ve never participated, and I am the coach of the (Special Olympics) basketball team for Wabash County, so I figured I better get involved this year.”

Would he do it again? “Yea, they’ll probably make me, the athletes will make me,” he said with a laugh.

Rick Shepard had a different experience when he jumped in. “It felt good,” he said. “It wasn’t actually as cold as I thought it was going to be.

“I’m a school resource officer,” he continued, “and the school usually does it to raise money. They were short on some money, so people drew my name into it. I told them if the school came up with enough money to reach their goal, I would join in.”