Special Olympics Polar Plunge unites athletes, families through fundraising

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.

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Chris Bethel, Delaney Bethel and Dan McIntyre.


Holding his daughter Delaney’s hand makes Chris Bethel proud.

For the past 11 years, Bethel has held 17-year-old Delaney’s hand as the father-daughter duo takes their annual plunge into frigid waters to raise money for Special Olympics Illinois.

“This is a unique fundraiser that allows us to support Special Olympics’ mission,” Bethel explains.

“You really develop great bonds. Throughout the Polar Plunge events the athletes come down, and it’s amazing because you get to see the personal side of the people that are involved. It’s a huge umbrella of individuals who have become family supporting each other, and that never ceases to amaze me.”

For the past 20 years participants have plunged into freezing 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.

The Bethels first began fundraising in 2010 because of Woodridge Police Officer Dan McIntyre.

Bethel and McIntyre met through work, and since then, they have collectively raised thousands of dollars for Special Olympics Illinois.

“The floodgates open when you tell people you are jumping into cold water,” McIntyre says.

“When you plunge, you experience a feeling of accomplishment because you see how these funds are helping so many athletes with not only sports, but other life skills and training.”

As a super plunger and the recently appointed assistant director of the Illinois Enforcement Torch Run for Special OlympicsIllinois, McIntyre is passionate about spreading awareness and encouraging others to become part of Special Olympics.

McIntyre says,“I am in this for the long run. I have great relationships with Special Olympics athletes. Last year I had the honor of awarding one of our athletes with a couple of medals at the Winter Games in Galena. To see the absolute joy on her face receiving her awards, it just brought me right back to that moment reaffirming that I am doing this for the right reasons. I want to be here to help the athletes. What made it even better was that I was able to bring my kids with me to experience it.”

Sharing special moments with family has also been rewarding and life-changing for the Bethels.

In the fall, Delaney will be pursuing a career in special education — a decision that was influenced by her exposure to and work with Special OlympicsIllinois.

“I look up to my dad and his passion for Special Olympics so much,”Delaney explains.

“He pushes me to step out of my comfort zone. We have gone door-to-door with fundraising. We interact with the athletes and that is so important. Being part of the Polar Plunge events is something I look forward to every year.”

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

This year, Special Olympics Illinoisis 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.

Long-time plunger and annual fundraiser Bill Kemp is improvising his plunge approach this year.

Kemp explains:“I am going to pick a venue where we can pour some buckets of water on top of participants. All that matters is that we all keep our promise to get cold and wet for Special Olympics Illinois.”

In Woodridge, McIntyre and the Bethels will be gathering locally with kiddie pools to dive into.

“This way people can safely come by, check it out and participate if they want to,”McIntyre says.

“We are going to have a tent setup with a table, t-shirts and hats, and some Torch Run swag for sale at a large shopping center in our hometown. This is a two-part mission of raising funds and awareness. The awareness level is especially great for young people. Young people like Delaney get a chance to make new friends and learn how to work together with different types of people. To me that is so important because it shapes someone for the rest of their lives. That is what Special Olympics Illinoisis all about.”

The annual event also receives support from various sponsors, including 12-year sponsor GEICO.

“At GEICO, we consider it an honor and a privilege to support Special Olympics and the thousands of brave athletes whose efforts inspire us all,”says Frankie Silva, Regional Vice President, GEICO.

“It is rare in life that you get back more in return than what you put in, but for all of us who provide support for this event, we come away better for the effort and proud to be partners in such a great cause.”

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

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