For much of the United States, this is not the time of year to be splish-splashing in your community pool. This writer, whose town recently received a whopping 35 inches of snow, quite literally shudders at the thought of dropping by my local rec center for a brisk outdoor swim! Even down south in Auburn, Alabama, a town that typically enjoys average temps in the mid- to upper-60s and higher 10 months out of the year, January’s warmest days only stretch into the 50s.
Such challenging environs, however brief their stay, are no match for the dozens of Auburnites who for the past four years have steeled themselves for a cold shock before participating in the annual Polar Plunge. First organized four years ago by City of Auburn Parks and Recreation League Sports Coordinator Ryan Molt, the event enjoins participants to gather financial pledges of support to benefit Lee County Special Olympics. They’re also encouraged to don a fun costume — characters spotted at this year’s Plunge include Superman, Joe Dirt, a “minion,” Auburn University’s Aubie the Tiger, Santa Claus and many others.
Molt says the Polar Plunge has seen tremendous growth since he and a friend first dreamed it up next to his backyard swimming pool in 2012. “One of my co-workers who works a lot with Special Olympics suggested I host a Polar Plunge to raise money,” he recalls. “We laughed it off at the time, but the more we talked, the more we thought it would be a lot of fun and benefit a great cause that was important to both of us, so we threw it together at the last minute the first year. We had 18 people come out, mostly friends and family, and raised $4,000 — then we decided to expand it and make it more of a parks and rec event.” January 30, 104 people gathered at the edge of Auburn’s Samford Pool to take the plunge — “So far, we’ve raised more than $12,600 and there are still a few checks trickling in,” Mott says. He plans to continue to build on the momentum the Polar Plunge has enjoyed thus far, and hopefully involve more local businesses and schools. “Maybe have local elementary school principals challenge each other to raise more money and the loser goes off the high dive — stuff like that,” he says, laughing.
“The Polar Plunge really helps foster a feeling of community for everyone involved. All the money goes directly to Lee County Special Olympics, so it’s staying with local families in need and local athletes. People involved in the Plunge get a sense of giving back while raising awareness about Special Olympics and its programs.”
Samantha Bartram is the Executive Editor of Parks & Recreation magazine.