Take the plunge with Special Olympics Illinois

For the past 20 years participants have plunged into frigid waters across Illinois raising nearly $2,000,000 annually to support 23,000 Special Olympics Illinois athletes.

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Madison, CJ and Bill Devine.

Provided photo

When police officer Bill Devine first started supporting Special Olympics, he had no idea how special the organization would become to him and his family.

“I have been a part of Special Olympics Illinois since I first got hired on the force in Tinley Park, specifically the Law Enforcement Torch Run, for about 24 years,” Bill explains.

“Then in 2006 my son CJ was born with down syndrome and I got even more involved once he turned two. I started to actively raise money and as CJ got older he started to compete in a lot of events.”

CJ, who is nonverbal, competes in basketball, baseball and bowling as a Special Olympics Illinois athlete. Being part of a team gives CJ a sense of belonging and a chance to share his athletic skills and personality with others.

It’s the organization that allows Bill’s 14-year-old son CJ to not only compete but socialize with friends and other athletes. Special Olympics Illinois also serves as a family that welcomed CJ and his sister Madison as a volunteer to help encourage, fundraise and spread awareness about those with intellectual disabilities.

“CJ loves the stage Special Olympics provides him with,” Bill shared. “When he is out there playing he thoroughly enjoys that the crowd is there cheering. For him, it’s the attention. He fully understands that it’s his moment.”

These special moments for athletes are made possible by fundraising and events like the Polar Plunge that supports Special Olympics Illinois.

For the past 20 years participants have plunged into frigid waters across Illinois raising nearly $2,000,000 annually to support 23,000 Special Olympics Illinois athletes. These important funds make it possible for athletes to compete in year-round sports and training, health and wellness and leadership programs, including online programming.

Because of COVID-19, this year’s Polar Plunge will be virtual — but Special Olympics’ goal for the event remains the same: to raise money and awareness for the athletes and their families.

Bill, an 11-year plunger, says, “It’s all about the athletes.”

“Anybody can write a check or go throw change in a bucket, but when you put yourself out there and jump into frozen waters, you have a sense of pride and accomplishment. Most importantly, it helps you realize the challenges CJ and the other Special Olympians face. Jumping into cold water is not a big challenge compared to the obstacles and barriers that our athletes have to overcome everyday.”

This year, Special Olympics Illinois is challenging everyone to stay safe and get creative with their personal plunges. Get in a snowball fight. Run through the sprinkler in your backyard. Or have a friend spray you with a hose! Participants must raise a minimum of $100 in donations through their polar plunges, and the campaign is open now through March 14.

“I started doing the Polar Plunge because of my dad,” Bill’s daughter Madison explains. “He inspired me and I also love the cause behind it. It supports my brother and so many kids just like him.”

Madison and CJ share a very special bond. Their relationship is so special that CJ is shaping 18-year-old Madison’s career path at Illinois State University.

“Seeing everything CJ went through made me want to help other families the way our family has been helped. It’s influenced me so greatly and is one of the biggest reasons for wanting to become a speech pathologist.”

Right now, “one of the hardest things is seeing the routine CJ developed be thrown off,” Madison says.

Bill has also noticed how deeply the pandemic has affected his son.

“We have been cooped up,” Bill explains. “A lot of our athletes depend on these events, activities and sports to get out, especially CJ since he is not verbal. He needs interaction and to be around friends and athletes because it changes his comfort level and helps him develop healthy interaction with others. That’s why events like the Polar Plunge are so important”

Fundraising for the Polar Plunge this year will be more challenging than ever. Businesses and families have been hit hard financially because of the pandemic, but the Devine family is confident that their community can still make a difference for athletes like CJ.

“Even if you can’t financially donate, just spreading the word about Special Olympics is powerful,” Madison says.

Bill adds, “The coronavirus is a fraction of what our athletes face daily. Sports drives these kids. This year more than ever we need our communities to dig deep and support Special Olympics Illinois. I challenge everyone to find a person they can take the Polar Plunge with so we can get these athletes like CJ on the field and bring some smiles back to their faces.”

Learn more and sign up to take the plunge at www.plungeillinois.com.

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