Special Olympics Ohio launches virtual Polar Plunge

The Greater Dayton Polar Bear Plunge, a fundraiser for Special Olympics Ohio, made a big splash on Saturday, March 12, 2020, outside of Adobe Gilas at the Greene Town Center in Beavercreek.
The Greater Dayton Polar Bear Plunge, a fundraiser for Special Olympics Ohio, made a big splash on Saturday, March 12, 2020, outside of Adobe Gilas at the Greene Town Center in Beavercreek.

Credit: Nick Falzerano

Credit: Nick Falzerano

Chilly immersion encourages people with disabilities to find the confidence to overcome challenges

Those who have been forced to experience a scaled-down version of sporting events or practices to comply with COVID 19-related social-distancing restrictions can testify to the lack of socialization that results. For the past year, Special Olympics Ohio athletes have had to find new and innovative ways to connect with one another over their sports-related hobbies.

The group’s latest initiative is a virtual version of the annual Polar Plunge, an event that encourages participants to immerse themselves in a cold body of water to raise money for Special Olympics Ohio. Traditionally, participants sign up for one of eight Polar Plunges across the state. This year, however, each participant will raise funding individually for some alternative form of the Polar Plunge, which might involve an ice bath or a snow bank or some other frigid-but-brief experience.

“This past year has presented us all with unique challenges, but the Special Olympics Ohio athletes and community continue to push forward, and the first virtual Polar Plunge is shaping up to be a tremendous success,” said Special Olympics Ohio CEO, Jessica Stewart. “We’re encouraging people to get creative, have fun with their Plunge and encourage as many people as possible to participate in this annual event that raises critical funds for our programs and our amazing athletes.”

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Over 150 participants signed up to take the "Polar Plunge" to benefit the Special Olympics at Caesar Creek Lake on Saturday, Jan. 29, 2011.
Over 150 participants signed up to take the "Polar Plunge" to benefit the Special Olympics at Caesar Creek Lake on Saturday, Jan. 29, 2011.

Credit: Staff photo by Nick Daggy

Credit: Staff photo by Nick Daggy

Since 1968, the Special Olympics have been providing fitness training, education and athletic competition to children and adults with intellectual disabilities. The Ohio branch of the Special Olympics provides these resources to nearly 22,000 children and adults with disabilities.

Jimmy Arquilla, a Huber Heights native, has benefitted from the year-round sports training and competition. Now 26, Arquilla has been training and competing with the Special Olympics of Dayton since elementary school. Arquilla runs track, bowls, plays soccer and basketball and is on the local Special Olympics weightlifting team. Arquilla’s father, Jim, has also been a coach for local Special Olympics teams for more than 15 years.

“I can tell you that Special Olympics fundraising is so very important,” Jim Arquilla said. “Most of the time, whatever event the athletes choose to do, whether it’s bowling, track, soccer or whatever, it’s their time to shine. It’s their big moment of the year, and they can’t wait. For years, Jimmy ran the 400, and it was the biggest moment in his life. His mom and I were so proud. And then that he went into weightlifting. He was 155 pounds and he lifted 295 pounds. We were just amazed. I can’t tell you how much it means to all these kids.”

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Jimmy Arquilla and friend participate in a Special Olympics Ohio event.
Jimmy Arquilla, right, and friend participate in a Special Olympics Ohio event. CONTRIBUTED.

Credit: Jim Arquilla

Credit: Jim Arquilla

When asked about how the Special Olympics has impacted his life, Jimmy Arquilla notes how the organization has helped improve his confidence and introduced him to many of his best friends to date. His father credits his large support system mostly to the local Special Olympics chapters.

“Before he started Special Olympics, he didn’t have any friends,” said Jim Arquilla. “It was just me and him. The Special Olympics was not only a way to get out and go places, but it also set up a structure to meet new people. He has friends all over the place. They still talk and it’s very social. They’re very social. It really means a lot to his mom and dad.”

Betsy Bankhurst, the Development Committee Chair for Special Olympics Ohio, first got involved in the organization through her sister, who has been on several Special Olympics Ohio teams since elementary school.

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“I know firsthand how important it is for these athletes to build confidence and have engagement with their peers through sportsmanship, special events and other resources like education on health and wellness,” Bankhurst said.

Due to shutdowns resulting from the global pandemic, nearly all of the in-person activities and events hosted by the various branches of the Special Olympics have been canceled. To ensure that participants could still engage with one another and remain active, Special Olympics Ohio has, along with organizing this year’s version of the Polar Plunge, organized virtual events and put together care packages for thousands of members.

Arquilla has also been staying busy with Special Olympics-related events, despite the pandemic. The Montgomery County and Greene County branches have hosted Zoom meetings that provide interactive exercise classes, trivia and more for those members who especially need social interaction during this difficult time.

Participants must raise or donate $100 to take part in the Polar Plunge, and those who want to sign up to take part in Special Olympics Ohio Polar Plunge can do so on the organization’s website. Those who participate can film their Polar Plunge and post it to social media with the hashtags #MyPlunge, #PolarPlunge2021 and #SpecialOlympicsOhio. The challenge can be completed at any time in the month of February.

For more information about Special Olympics Ohio and Special Olympics of Greater Dayton, pay a visit to their websites.

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