GILBERTSVILLE – Hundreds of participants from around the region gathered at Kentucky Dam Village State Park and Resort Saturday for the 14th annual Western Kentucky Polar Plunge and 5K and brought with them more than $75,000 in donations for Special Olympics.
Special Olympics West Kentucky Regional Director Laura Miller said more than 350 participated this year, which was more than expected. While more donations are likely to trickle in over the coming weeks, as of Saturday, participants raised $75,318.
In the team fundraising awards, Murray Rockets raised $11,841 to win the Community/Corporate/Civic Division. Murray Independent Icebreakers with Murray Elementary School won the School/University Division by raising $6,228.
In the individual awards, the Top Special Olympics Kentucky Athlete Award went to Colin Polyner, who raised $542. The Top Personal Plunge Award went to Chunk Williams with Murray Rockets; he raised $8,580. Virginia Hawthorne with Progress Rail took home the Top Individual Award for raising $3,698; second place went to Dan Otterson with The Garage Crew, who raised $1,810; and Jessica Chiri Craw with Blooms Below Zero raised $1,364 and received third place.
“Polar Plunges” are held across the country and are the signature fundraising event for Special Olympics. The name is even trademarked by the organization, which is dedicated to helping children and adults with intellectual disabilities discover and foster new strengths, abilities and skills through year-round sports training and athletic competitions.
In Kentucky, there are five annual plunges – Western Kentucky, Louisville, Lexington, Northern Kentucky and Lake Cumberland. The Lake Cumberland event is the last of “plunge season.” It will be held next weekend.
Miller said that for most plunges, 100% of the funds raised go to the state organization; however, the western Kentucky event is different.
“We are a little bit unique in that we’re run by our local Murray delegation,” she explained. “So, it’s volunteer-run for the most part. We support the infrastructure of the website, insurance (for the event), all of those things; so, we split the funds – half of the funds stay right here in Calloway County to support our Murray Rockets delegation, and then half of the funds support at the state level, which is also very important for us. For me, that’s one reason why I love this fundraiser because it keeps us financially healthy, and it also works to keep our state organization financially healthy as well.”
Murray Rockets has been a Special Olympics Kentucky (SOKY) delegation since 2006. They participate in 10 of the 15 sports SOKY offers and boast a membership of around 200 athletes and Unified Partners. Miller said it is the largest delegation in far western Kentucky, both in terms of the number of sports offered and the number of participating athletes.
In addition to supporting Murray Rockets, the Murray delegation also strives to engage local families through monthly social events. Polar Plunge funds also go to facilitating these social events.
“We recognize that sometimes families of children and adults with disabilities feel a little isolated, so we provide family and friends social events that we try to do monthly,” Miller said. “Maybe an athlete might not participate in a sport during a specific season, we still wanted an opportunity to keep them engaged as well as keeping their families connected. So, in addition to our sports, we offer those social opportunities as well as work on some leadership skills and things like that with our athletes.”
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