During the summer, the land of 10,000 lakes offers an oasis of sandy beaches and perfect swimming water. During the winter, it offers an opportunity to jump into a hole in the ice and raise money for Special Olympics Minnesota.
Polar Plunges take place throughout the state during the winter months, and this year, Woodbury’s is taking place on February 13 at Carver Lake Beach. You’ve likely seen it on the news or on social media, groups dressed up in costumes jumping into frigid water to raise money for Special Olympics. But what does that money actually do?
“It’s supporting Special Olympics Minnesota,” Megan Powell, director of law enforcement torch run for Special Olympics Minnesota, says. The funds from the events stay in Minnesota, and the money is “providing year-round sports training for people with special disabilities.”
The event has caught on and last year’s first-ever Woodbury plunge raised $103,000 with 580 plungers. To get involved, participants have to register online and raise at least $75, Powell says, but the average person raises more than $200. Once you’re on the lake, there’s a changing tent (one for men, one for women) that’s heated for the participants, and there’s a spectator tent for those supporting their family and friends. Participants leave the heated tents, do the plunge, then walk through heated tunnels to warm back up.
“It’s a quick event—people jump in and then out—but it’s a fun, festive environment,” Powell, who’s jumped three times, says. “It’s cold, but for me every single time I jumped in I had that, ‘Oh my gosh’ moment, and then giggled uncontrollably. ‘Oh my gosh I can’t believe we just did that.’”
One of the groups jumping is the Woodbury public safety team, filled with leaders in the community. Last year, public information officer Michelle Okada says the team had members including “Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens, council member Christopher Burns, one of our city attorneys joined us, and then several police officers, fire fighters, and some of our administrative staff in public safety.” Because the polar plunge is traditionally linked to law enforcement, “there just wasn’t a question whether we were going to participate,” Okada says.
While most of the events across the state are similar, Woodbury has something special, and that’s the Madison Claire Foundation. The foundation is working on building fully-inclusive playgrounds for kids of all abilities, the first of which is Madison’s Place at Bielenberg Sports Center. “We work with them on the event,” Powell says. “Most of our plunges don’t work that way, but in Woodbury we’re specifically partnering [with them] to put a playground in the area.”
Dana Millington, the founder of the Madison Claire Foundation, says it partnered with the Polar Plunge because it was “such a great opportunity not only to help fund Madison’s Place, but also to help create awareness of how active Special Olympics is in our community. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some great people there,” Millington says, adding the Madison Claire Foundation team has had fun participating in the plunge. “[We] had a 10-person plunge team last year and we dressed as Sriracha hot sauce bottles.”
Dressing up and jumping in the water is the fun part, but it’s more than a winter activity. Powell says her favorite thing about the plunge is “just being at the events and getting to meet all these different people that are there for the same reason.” It’s about “getting to meet and know all these people that are passionate about it.”
Woodbury Polar Plunge
February 13, 1 p.m.
Carver Lake // 3175 Century Ave. S.