Are you willing to brave the cold temperatures and some frigid water for a good cause? The Polar Plunge fundraiser is a way to support Special Olympic athletes of the Eastern Prairie Area 8 district by jumping into Lake of the Woods Forest Preserve in Mahomet on Saturday, March 1st, at 12 p.m.

Since the fifth grade, Jackie Walk has been volunteering her time for organizations, especially programs helping those with disabilities. When asked how she got involved with volunteering, she said it was her mom. “My mom, who was originally from Mattoon, would volunteer at the Family Fun Fest, which hosted Special Olympics. She encouraged me to volunteer.”

Walk had a family member with a disability, so it was more personal to her to volunteer for such an organization. She continued working with and donating her time and efforts to the Special Olympics program. She has now been an area eight director for Eastern Prairie for four years. The Polar Plunge is one of the largest fundraisers Special Olympics holds, to raise money, and to also promote awareness.

The Polar Plunge is a fundraising event put on by the Law Enforcement Torch Run and GEICO to support Special Olympic Athletes by jumping into the cold water of The Lake of the Woods in Mahomet. Special Olympics Illinois is a year-round program of sports and competitions for children and adults with disabilities.

The Polar Plunge Fundraiser helps with costs going towards the athletes. The Special Olympic athletes are not charged to participate in various events. The funds help with the cost of participation, as well as venue and location costs, athlete costs, game supplies, and other necessary equipment.

Walk said there are nineteen different sports for the athletes to participate in. They range from basketball, aquatics, softball, track and field, winter games, snow showing, cross country, and skiing.

The Special Olympics program is state wide. It is broken down into twenty different areas. In Walk’s area, there are 550 athletes. Throughout the state of Illinois there are 23 thousand athletes that participate in various events. “We average 350 competitions state wide,” she said.

Athletes can begin competing at the age of 8, and some participate into their late 80’s. Walk said that there are young athlete programs organized for children from the ages of 2 to 7 years old. This is a way for them to individually prep for the Special Olympics.

“Last year we had 462 plungers,” Walk said. “This year so far we have 400, and hope to get more.” She encourages people to volunteer and participate in events like these; using their time to support a good cause.

All polar plungers are required to collect $75 in donations to help support the fundraiser. Plungers can also form teams and come in costume. Throughout the state, the teams formed are placed into divisions based on size and are awarded prizes for the most money raised. Plungers who raise more than $500 will go into a drawing for a grand prize.

Each plunger will receive a t-shirt and be able to attend the Post-Plunge lunch party held in the pavilion at Lake of the Woods.

Walk would like to see more people out there than in the past years. “Come out this weekend and see what’s it’s all about”, she said. “It’s really fun!”

Plungers can register online at www.plungeillinois.com or by calling Jackie Walk at 217-355-1750.You can also register the morning of the plunge (Satruday, March 1st) at Lake of the Woods in Mahomet. There will be a pre-registration event from 5-7 p.m. Feb. 28th at the Lake of the Woods. Directions to the plunge location can be found at www.soill.org.