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Chicago students get creative for COVID-safe Polar Plunge

People usually jump into Lake Michigan for the annual Polar Plunge, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, groups are doing it separately and finding creative ways to join.

A student jumps into a wading pool filled with snow and water for St. Patrick High School’s version of the Polar Plunge at St. Patrick’s High School in the Belmont Central neighborhood, Saturday morning, March 6, 2021, where students and teachers participated to raise money for Special Olympics Chicago and Special Children’s Charities.
A student jumps into a wading pool filled with snow and water for St. Patrick High School’s version of the Polar Plunge at St. Patrick’s High School in the Belmont Central neighborhood, Saturday morning, March 6, 2021, where students and teachers participated to raise money for Special Olympics Chicago and Special Children’s Charities.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many to reimagine traditions, and that includes the Polar Plunge, an annual rite that usually sends thousands of people jumping into the freezing waters of Lake Michigan to raise money for Special Olympics Chicago.

Instead, teachers and students took the tradition inland Saturday morning to the campus of St. Patrick High School in the Belmont Central neighborhood, where they ran across a football field, threw rubber chickens through hula hoops, did pushups and plunged into a pool filled with snow and water.

The Northwest Side school, which has been participating in the Polar Plunge for the past five years, raised about $10,700 for Special Olympics Chicago and Special Children’s Charities this year, according to Christopher Perez, St. Patrick’s assistant principal.

“We have to stay safe. That’s the No. 1 priority, especially during a pandemic,” said Dominic Sabella, an alumnus who took part. “If they have to change, they have to change to the new safety protocols, but being able to still participate in the tradition is really big and important.”

A student jumps into a wading pool filled with snow and water for St. Patrick High School’s version of the Polar Plunge.
A student jumps into a wading pool filled with snow and water for St. Patrick High School’s version of the Polar Plunge.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Students did likewise earlier in the week at Marist High School, running through an elaborate obstacle course with a “polar cannon” shooting out water like a fire hydrant.

Marist High School students run through a specially-designed “polar cannon” as a coronavirus-safe Polar Plunge alternative on Tuesday. Around 100 students participated.
Marist High School students run through a specially-designed “polar cannon” as a coronavirus-safe Polar Plunge alternative on Tuesday. Around 100 students participated.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Organizers of the citywide Polar Plunge called off the in-person event earlier this year, opting instead for a virtual fundraiser which runs through Sunday at www.chicagopolarplunge.org. They encourage participants to “plunge safely in a setting of their choosing, whether it be jumping in the snow or running through a sprinkler.”

Since the first Polar Plunge 22 years ago, participants have raised more than $24 million in for charity and other programming statewide.