GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — On a winter West Michigan morning, with temperatures in the single digits, there's only one thing that makes sense to do — take a dive into an ice-cold pool, of course! That's what our FOX 17 morning crew did Saturday, along with several other people, to help set local and statewide fundraising records for Special Olympics Michigan.
“It is single digits, which actually means the water will be warmer than the air, and it’s a little bit refreshing when you do it that way," joked Ian Graham, a public safety officer with the Rockford Police Department and one of Saturday's plungers.
Aside from these folks being crazy minded, they're also crazy generous, putting their bodies on the line to raise money and awareness for the Special Olympics.
Graham shared some tips with FOX 17 ahead of time.
“It’s all about mental preparation," he said. "If you go into it thinking it’s going to be cold, it’s going to be cold. The secret is, it’s going to be cold either way, but at least mentally if you feel like you’re jumping into a nice, warm pool, maybe you can spare yourself some of the shock.”
Obviously, that's easier said than done.
What won't shock you is the generosity of the community. FOX 17 was told 160 people took the plunge in Grand Rapids Saturday, with 120 participating virtually.
The Grand Rapids Polar Plunge at LMCU Ballpark was one of 30 going on across Michigan Saturday.
The statewide fundraising goal was $1 million. An event coordinator told FOX 17 they surpassed that, hitting $1,095,820 statewide.
The Grand Rapids goal was $100,000. The same coordinator said they beat that too, reaching more than $120,000.
Both are records for the organization.
“This is truly for our athletes today," said Jennifer Van Skiver, a board member and vice chair with Special Olympics Michigan. "Every dollar that we raise goes to make sure that our athletes can continue to play on the courts, on the fields, for free. We’re very grateful to the 4,000 volunteers across the state, and grateful to you guys for being here today too to show us what it’s all about.”
Graham learned a few years ago what it's all about. Now, he can't get enough.
“Originally I was peer pressured by a couple members of Law Enforcement Torch Run and local media," said Graham. "But once I met my first athlete, I was hooked. Once you meet them and you see their fire to compete with each other and have those opportunities that they might not have otherwise, that’s all I needed to be motivated.”
One of the athletes is Van Skiver's daughter. She knows firsthand the importance of Special Olympics Michigan.
“We light the pilot light in people," said Van Skiver. "We create a sense of drive and a desire to belong and to keep going. Really what it’s about is never giving up. Sports is the catalyst that brings us all together, but it’s that leadership; it’s that self-confidence that’s instilled in our athletes that helps them go on to find a meaningful place in their community, whatever that looks like.”
If you didn't get the chance to participate, there's still time to donate. Just visit the Special Olympics Michigan website and find your area.