Freezin’ for a reason: Students to plunge into Lake Erie for Special Olympics


Claire Eichner, Staff writer

The​ ​Mercyhurst​ community is getting ready once again​ ​to​ ​prepare​ ​for​ ​another​ ​“Erie​ ​Polar Plunge,” ​set​ ​to​ ​take​ ​place​ ​on​ ​Nov.​ ​18​ ​at​ ​noon.​

This year will be the third annual plunge. Mike Ruzzi, anchor with WICU-TV, and Joe Lang, DJ with BOB FM 94.7, will be co-emcees again this year.

​Each​ ​year,​ ​dozens​ ​of​ ​students​ ​from Mercyhurst University,​ ​other area ​universities​ ​and​ ​the​ ​local​ Erie ​community​ ​come​ ​together​ ​to​ ​raise awareness​ ​for​ ​Special​ ​Olympics​ ​PA (SOPA).​ ​The​ ​plungers​ ​commit​ ​to​ ​“Freezin’​ ​For​ ​a​ ​Reason” and​ ​have​ ​to​ ​raise​ ​a​ ​minimum​ ​of​ ​$50​ ​to​ ​“dip​ ​a​ ​toe,​ ​wade ​or​ ​jump​ ​into​ ​the​ ​icy​ ​waters​ ​of​ ​Lake Erie.”​ ​All​ ​of​ ​the​ ​money​ ​that​ ​is​ ​raised​ ​goes​ ​to​ ​supporting​ ​nearly​​ ​20,000​ ​Special Olympics athletes​ ​across​ ​ ​Pennsylvania.​

Meghan​ ​Maker,​ ​Marketing​ ​and​ ​Development​ ​intern​ ​for​ ​the​ ​Plunge, has​ ​played​ ​a​ ​role​ ​in​ ​making​ ​this​ ​event​ ​possible. This year, she​ ​and​ ​the​ ​rest​ ​the​ ​team have​ ​implemented​ ​a​ ​new​ ​component.​
“This​ ​year,​ ​we​ ​are​ ​implementing​ ​a​ ​new​ ​‘college challenge,’” Maker said. “​We​ ​have​ ​invited​ ​all​ ​area​ ​schools​ ​to​ ​participate.”

The​ ​school​ that ​raises the​ ​most​ ​money​ ​will​ ​win​ a ​trophy​ ​and​ ​“bragging​ ​rights,​” Maker said.

“In​ ​the​ ​past​, ​Mercyhurst​ ​has​ ​had​ ​a​ ​huge presence​ ​and​ ​raised​ ​over​ ​$10,000​,” she said.​

​Last​ ​year,​ more than ​600​ ​people​ ​participated​. This​ ​year, with​ ​the​ ​stakes​ ​being​ ​raised​ ​even​ ​higher,​ ​the​ ​goal​ ​is​ ​800​ ​plungers and​ ​a​ ​total​ ​of​ ​$95,000​ ​raised, Maker said.​

​Mercyhurst​ ​in​ ​particular​ ​​“has​ ​set​ ​a​ ​goal​ ​for​ ​200​ ​students, 50​ ​faculty​ ​and​ ​staff​ ​members​ ​and​ ​a​ ​$15,000​ ​fundraising​ ​goal,” Maker said.​ ​​ ​

Other​ ​than​ ​the​ ​freezing​ ​trek​ ​into​ ​Lake​ ​Erie,​ there​ ​will​ ​be​ ​games​ ​to​ ​play,​ ​free​ ​hot​ ​dogs​ ​to​ ​eat​ ​and​ ​hot​ ​chocolate​ ​to​ ​drink.​ ​Last year even had music.

​“There​ ​was​ ​live​ ​entertainment​ ​by​ ​Rock​ Erie​ ​Music​ ​Award winning​ ​singer​ ​Matt​ ​Boland,​ ​ice​ ​carving​ ​by​ ​Erie​ ​Ice​ ​Carvers​ ​and​ ​face​ ​painting​ ​by Taradoodles,” Maker said. ​

Some​ ​other​ ​members​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Polar​ ​Plunge​ ​team​ ​include​ ​event​ ​manager​ ​Jessica Kurry​ ​and​ ​Corporate​ ​Giving​ ​manager​ ​Megan​ ​Frenz.​ ​Kurry​ ​has​ ​been​ ​helping​ ​with​ ​the​ ​event since​ ​it​ ​started​ ​up​ ​three​ ​years​ ​ago​ ​and​ says she ​is​ ​thrilled​ ​to​ ​see​ ​that​ ​the​ ​Plunge​ ​keeps continuing​ ​to​ ​grow.​

“The​ ​plunge​ ​is​ ​always​ ​such​ ​a​ ​spectacle,” she said. “​There​ ​is​ ​so​ ​much​ ​energy,​ ​and​ ​to​ ​see​ ​600​ ​people running​ ​into​ ​the​ ​frigid​ ​water​ ​of​ ​Lake​ ​Erie​ ​in​ ​the​ ​middle​ ​of​ ​November​ ​is​ ​just​ ​a​ ​highlight​ ​in itself.”​​ ​

She​ ​also​ ​mentioned​ ​that​ ​a​ ​yearly​ ​tradition​ ​is​ ​carrying​ ​the​ ​Special​ ​Olympics torch​ ​to​ ​the​ ​edge​ ​of​ ​the​ ​water​ ​as​ ​part​ ​of​ ​the​ ​opening​ ​ceremonies,​ ​which​ ​for​ ​participants​ ​and spectators​ ​is​ ​always​ ​a​ ​unique​ ​sight​ ​to​ ​see.​

Those who raise funds can earn rewards including water bottles, an Amazon Fire, an Amazon Alexa Echo Dot, an Apple iPad Mini 4 and more.