UNC Special Olympics hosted its first Polar Plunge at the pool at Lux at Central Park to raise money for Special Olympics Orange County.
The majority of polar plungers were Orange County Special Olympics athletes, their families and leaders of UNC Special Olympics. Through a Special Olympics fundraising website, donors pledged money to participating plungers, raising over $1,300 in just four days.
The polar plunge is a common fundraising event for Special Olympics programs nationwide. Sophomore Alyssa Taflinger, who founded UNC Special Olympics at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year, said she had three goals in organizing the event.
“Raising awareness of what Special Olympics does, raising money for Special Olympics and also letting people meet our athletes — the awesome people that participate in our sports every day,” she said.
Taflinger said they had trouble finding a pool to hold the plunge, so they only had four days to organize the event. She hopes the club will have more time next year to plan and expand the event.
Colleen Lanigan, the Special Olympics Orange County coordinator, said this year’s Polar Plunge was a trial for UNC Special Olympics to see what kind of efforts were needed to put on the fundraiser.
“It’s a small event that they were just testing the waters to see what it takes to put on this kind of event, just the logistics stuff,” she said. “Then next year and each continuing year, we hope that the group continues to grow and grow and grow, now that they sort of understand logistically how you put an event like this together.”
Lanigan said Special Olympics Orange County is always looking for ways to incorporate the UNC community into their programs.
“Students come in with such enthusiasm and such wonderful ideas, and so we partner with them in all kinds of different ways,” she said.
Sophomore Chanho Lee participated in the plunge even though he had no affiliation with UNC Special Olympics.
“In high school I volunteered with kids with disabilities and stuff like that,” he said. “It’s a good opportunity to raise awareness and donate money at the same time.”
Scott Lambeth, a Special Olympics Orange County athlete and athletic representative for UNC Special Olympics, said he enjoys having UNC students involved in programs.
“I mean, it feels great just to have everybody involved and, you know, I guess it just makes it more like a family atmosphere,” Lambeth said. “We have more camaraderie.”
Lambeth said the cold water did not faze him during the Polar Plunge because he has swum competitively for years. He plans on continuing to participate in the annual fundraiser.
“Yes, I’m definitely going to keep doing this every year for as long as I can!” he said.