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Students brave freezing waters to raise money for Special Olympics
Lynchburg residents will plunge into wintry water in support of the Special Olympics Virginia (SOVA) on Feb. 26, at the Hill City Polar Plunge Festival.
Liberty University is the first university in Virginia to host a Polar Plunge Festival. The Event has been a great success, according to Josh Walker, director of Special Olympics Piedmont region.
“Last year, the event more than doubled in profit and attendance compared to the previous plunge in 2009, which was the first Polar Plunge Festival in Lynchburg,” Walker said.
The annual festival, held at Camp Hydaway, will include a battle of the bands, food, community fellowship and daring individuals who will jump into piercing cold water.
Last years’ 50 plungers overcame the cold temperatures ranging in the 20s in order to bring awareness and support for a cause that touches the lives of more than 10,000 children and adults with intellectual disabilities in Virginia.
More than 300 locals attended the festival last year, and more than $8,000 was raised. The overwhelming support of the university and community does not go unrecognized by the athletes and families.
“It’s really exciting to see that we have people in our area willing to jump into a lake in the middle of the winter in support of the Special Olympics’ athletes.” Benjamin Kelly, a Liberty student and brother of a child with Down Syndrome, said. “It shows the selflessness of the community and brings me great joy.”
Prizes will be given to the top fundraisers on resident halls and sports teams. There will also be something called “Plunge Your Prof” in which the students can group together to raise $1,000 and have their professors plunge.
“This year, our goal is to raise $15,000,” Walker said.
Festivities begin at 10 a.m., and the plunge will take place at 2 p.m. Last year’s plungers did not simply dress in a swimsuit. Many plunged in various costumes. One man came dressed as Superman and another dressed as a banana.
Spectators are welcome to watch and participate in other events at the festival. The funds raised at the event directly support the opportunity for SOVA athletes to train and compete in more than 2,000 events annually free of charge. Fifty percent of the money raised at the event will be given to Area 24 Special Olympics, and 50 percent will go to Special Olympics Virginia as a whole.
“We base our mission off the fact that God doesn’t make mistakes when he creates a person,” Walker said. “Our purpose is to give those, who otherwise would never have the opportunity, the chance to compete in the athletics of their choice.”
While the festival is free, $100 must be raised in order to plunge, and many participants have raised the money through support from family and friends.
Those attending will park at the Liberty’s LaHaye Center and take shuttle busses to Camp Hydaway.
The university’s Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) chapter is planning and hosting the Battle of the Bands portion of the event. Last year, the band winners received free recording time at a local Lynchburg studio and a complimentary photo session provided by another local vender.
The sports offered through SOVA vary according to season. Winters events include speed skating, bowling, alpine skiing and tennis. In the spring, events include basketball games and skills competitions. In the summer, athletes enjoy tennis, track and field, swimming, softball, bowling and power lifting. In the fall, SOVA offers soccer, bowling, volleyball, bocce, golf and roller-skating.
“Special Olympics gives me joy in knowing that my baby brother is going to have something that is unique to him and give him something to look forward to,” Kelly said. “It is something to push him to do his best athletically and personally and something that is going help him feel special.”
Walker said that children and adults with intellectual disabilities are those that are able to participate in SOVA. According to the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD), an intellectual disability is “a disability characterized by significant limitations both in intellectual functioning (reasoning, learning, problem solving) and in adaptive behavior, which covers a range of everyday social and practical skills.”
The Polar Plunge Festival at Hill City provides a way for the community to meet their fellow citizens and realize that although the athletes have an intellectual disability, they have much joy to bring and talents to offer.