Chilly Event Warms the Heart
Lebanon’s annual Polar Bear Plunge brings smiles and funds to the Wilson County Special Olympics Athletes – POLAR BEAR PLUNGE 2011
By SUE SIENS
If you are looking for an exhilarating start to the New Year, then joining Lebanon’s 12th annual Polar Bear Plunge is the event for you. All you have to do is take a swim in the outdoor swimming pool at the Jimmy Floyd Family Center on Saturday, January 18th, with a small registration fee of $10. Participants are also asked to seek sponsors and donations, with all proceeds benefiting the Wilson County Special Olympics.
Registration begins at 8 a.m., and The Plunge will start at 9 a.m. As an added incentive, the Polar Bear participant who raises the most donations for the event will be awarded a one-year individual membership to the Jimmy Floyd Family Center. To date, Paul Casner, frequent Plunge participant, has raised the most money and received the membership multiple times.
The Floyd Center’s “plunge” was initiated in January 2000, at the newly opened Jimmy Floyd Family Center by former Mayor Don Fox as the premier event following the Center’s opening. From the beginning, the event has served as a fundraiser to benefit the Wilson County Special Olympics. The event is coordinated by Tim Hill – Lebanon’s JFFC & Leisure Services Director, and Cindy Baker – Aquatics Director at the Center, along with lifeguards and other volunteers from the community as well as the Wilson County Special Olympics. Since its inception, the event has raised more than $40,000 for Special Olympics.
What would possess anyone to go running head-long into freezing cold water in January? Every year, 40-75 brave souls have taken the plunge. Last year, Director Tim Hill had to break ice along the pool edge so participants could safely jump in. “Honestly, I dread going into the water. It isn’t too bad if the temperatures are above 40 but below that, it hurts,” said Hill, adding, “But it is worth it when you watch the Special Olympics swimmers and see the fun they have. It’s all worth it.” Hill and Lebanon City Councilman Joe Hayes have both participated every year.
Lebanon Firefighter Tommy Chaffin helps out with special needs individuals on his “off time”. He took his first “plunge” last year. Chaffin said, “I like to try new things, and I knew it would help Special Olympics.”
Each year, the Polar Bear Plunge is held first thing in the morning, and a Special Olympics regional swim meet is held in the Center’s warm indoor pool following The Plunge. Plunge participants are warmed up with hot beverages and snacks, and local restaurants provide lunch for the Special Olympians in the afternoon. Cindy Baker directs the Special Olympics swim meet. She said this year there are already 70 participants registered to compete, with more expected. “They love the competition. It’s such a thrill to see them swim and feel they have accomplished something great. Even if they only swim out a few feet and swim back, they feel like champions. The event is also preparation for the State games,” said Baker.
Sean Stakes, Middle Tennessee Regional Coordinator for Special Olympics Tennessee, is very excited that the Jimmy Floyd Center is once again hosting the Wilson County Polar Bear Plunge and the Regional Aquatics Meet. “The Wilson County Polar Bear Plunge is a special event because it’s one of the only events in the State where a fundraising event is immediately followed by a programming event. Participants in The Polar Bear Plunge who have worked hard to raise money for the athletes of Wilson County can stick around right after The Plunge and see what Special Olympics is all about. The Jimmy Floyd Center and the surrounding community have been wonderful supporters of Special Olympics, and athletes across Middle Tennessee look forward every year to participating. This event is the kick-off event for the 2011 swimming season, and we’re expecting over 100 athletes from 10 counties to participate. The athletes practice very hard, and this meet gives them a chance to show off their skills and go for the gold,” said Stakes.
Everyone can support the Polar Bear Plunge with a donation, even if you don’t actually make the icy dip. To donate or register for the Polar Plunge, visit their online site at www.specialolympicstn.org/polarplunge.php. Anyone who donates $30 or more prior to the event will receive a complimentary Polar Bear Plunge t-shirt. For more information, call Cindy Baker at (615) 453-4545.