Taking the plunge for Special Olympics
By Jeanie Groh
Participants in the second annual Polar Plunge came prepared to get soaked, so they didn’t let a little drizzle dampen their spirits Saturday morning.
Organizer Jay Taylor said this year’s Polar Plunge for the Special Olympics of Rowan County was a huge success. More than 40 “plungers” participated this year, and they raised just shy of $7,000. The number of participants doubled from last year, and they surpassed their fundraising goal by nearly $2,000.
“This is so much larger than last year,” Taylor said.
A contagious excitement filled the air as families and individuals arrived at the Elks River Park. A disc jockey played festive tunes, while participants ate hot dogs and caught up with old friends. Some even came dressed in elaborate costumes.
Around 1 p.m. the group migrated from the covered shelter to the waterfront as the participants prepared to charge into 40-degree water.
Some went in fully clothed, while others wore bathing suits or costumes.
As they counted down, the mass of people took to the water. The plungers shrieked as they dove into the cold water, and the lifeguards and bystanders cheered them on.
A few minutes later, the children followed with their very own Polar Plunge.
“It was very cold,” Taylor said, but added that once his adrenaline started pumping, it wasn’t so bad.
“It was like a burst of cold water,” said participant Sarah Fincher, who said she kept telling herself that she had to push through.
Special Olympics is special to Fincher because she has a special needs person in her family.
Last year, Taylor brought the Polar Plunge to Rowan County for the first time.
He’d previously participated in Iredell County’s and wanted Rowan County to have one of its own.
Taylor knows firsthand how extraordinary Special Olympics is and the impact it can have on an individual.
“I had a brother with special needs,” he explained. “I know and am aware of what Special Olympics does.”
Even though his brother passed away when he was 21, Taylor hasn’t walked away from those with special needs.
He now serves as an instructor at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College for adults with intellectual disabilities and traumatic brain injuries.
Taylor, his students, other students and faculty at Rowan-Cabarrus raised $3,500 for Special Olympics through the Polar Plunge alone.
Many participants, Taylor said, came from local churches and civic groups, including First Baptist Church, Sacred Heart, the Civitans and the Elks.
“It’s a celebration,” Taylor said, adding that the Polar Plunge allows those who are inspired by the Special Olympics and its athletes to be an inspiration to them in return.