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Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Valparaiso University will not be hosting the traditional Polar Plunge. Instead, the alternative will be the Polar Plunge Run, an event similar to a virtual 5K/10K that is part of the Earn Your Wings fundraiser to benefit Special Olympics Indiana.

For the Polar Plunge Run, runners will have to complete a distance equivalent to a 5K or 10K. However, it is not limited to running.

“Honestly, if people want to skateboard or cross-country ski it or rollerblade it, or whatever they want, that's fine. There are people that will do it as a competitive race - as competitive as you can be with the virtual race - but in a virtual race, you could have somebody running a 5K in the Indiana Dunes versus somebody running one on a flat road,” Buzz Lail, director of programs for Special Olympics Indiana, said.

Both individuals and teams can participate in the Polar Plunge Run, with awards being given to both categories. Submissions/registration is available from now until March 31. 

In previous years, Valpo’s Polar Plunge was an annual winter event held around mid-February in which individuals or teams would fundraise for Special Olympics Indiana, and then jump into freezing water. The program came to VU in 2010 and remained every year since, open to the general public to both spectate and raise money. Traditionally, Phi Kappa Sigma coordinated it as their philanthropy event. They could not be reached for comment.

“The students do fundraisers, as well as the faculty and staff. Outstanding - I can't say enough about Valpo, how they embrace it. Our Northwest Indiana community also attends it, and of course the Special Olympics athletes from the Porter County Region,” Charles Garber, assistant chief of VUPD, said.

The 2021 Earn Your Wings virtual fundraiser consists of two distinct events: Polar Plunge Run and a new event, Be an Angel for Special Olympics Indiana. Both events require a $25 registration fee. Additional fundraising is encouraged to support the organization.

Be an Angel for Special Olympics Indiana has individuals or teams either build a snow angel, or create an angel costume. Participants then submit a picture/video of their creations. Chalk, paint or other materials can be substituted for snow angels. Submissions will soon be available to view on the Special Olympics Indiana website as well as their social media pages.

This year, Garber is encouraging the VU community, particularly those who have “plunged” before, to show support by doing one of the events.

“I hope that the Valpo community rallies together to support these events and that we hopefully can all be together again next year for the Polar Plunge,” Garber said. 

The Polar Plunge is Special Olympics Indiana’s signature fundraiser. In total, the financial goal for 2021 is $825,000 across the state. VU’s goal is $25,000. These funds help to provide the programming for the organization’s year-round sporting events. Lail gave an overview of what all the programming is and how it benefits the athletes.

“The money that is used that is raised by the Plunge goes to help Special Olympics athletes compete and train locally at area and state level,” Lail said. “Another thing that people very often don't understand is that Special Olympics is year-round sports. People kind of have a picture in their head a lot of times of Special Olympics being a track meet that’s held once a year. Well, our sports, we do them by season. And they involve eight-to-ten weeks of practice and training.” 

Lail also described how Special Olympics Indiana fosters inclusion in communities.

“We want our people who are Special Olympics athletes to be treated the same as everybody else. We call it the ‘inclusion revolution.’ And that's probably some of the most important work we do. Indiana has, as far as number of schools, the largest highschool sports program in the country through the Champions Together program,” Lail said.

Special Olympics Indiana will actually have its own in-person plunge on April 10 at Heartland Christian Center, south of Valpo. Numerous restrictions, however, will be in place.

For more information on the 2021 Polar Plunge season, go to https://soindiana.org/polar-plunge/.

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