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Taking the plunge

Special Olympics Pennsylvania to benefit from Polar Plunge

Penn State Altoona students jump into freezing waters at Canoe Creek State Park during the Polar Plunge on Jan. 30, 2016. The Winter Games Polar Plunge will take place at Canoe Creek on Saturday to raise money to benefit Special Olympics Pennsylvania. Mirror file photo

Cloudy skies, freezing temperatures and frigid water are all part of a Pennsylvania winter — and also of the Winter Games Polar Plunge. The annual event will take place at Canoe Creek State Park on Feb. 1. Men and women will brave the wintertime conditions and icy water to raise money to benefit Special Olympics Pennsylvania.

The organization is calling on people who want to take the rush into the wintry water to sign up for the event. The plunge — which will begin at noon — is relatively quick, but the morning leading up to the leap is full of fun in a party-like atmosphere.

“There will be a cornhole tournament, a little gathering with bonfires and free food, a little party with a DJ during registration where people can gather, can enjoy each other’s company and meet the athletes,” said Jessica Kury, events director for Special Olympics Pennsylvania.

Kury mentioned that the plunge usually draws 350 to 400 people and between 200 and 300 spectators. This event is a large fundraiser for the organization that provides the games free for Special Olympian participants.

“It was Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s goal that athletes never have to pay. Because of fundraisers like this, that is possible,” Kury said.

Local Special Olympian Brianna Whorl competes in tennis and bocce and will be taking the Polar Plunge with her family on Saturday. Courtesy photo

Special Olympics is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Local athlete Brianna Whorl plays tennis and bocce at the games. She will be co-emcing the upcoming Polar Plunge.

Whorl, who traveled to Abu Dhabi to compete in tennis for the Special Olympics, enjoyed going there and the special memories she made.

“It was warm and amazing. I met a lot of other people from around the world and became friends with them,” she said.

Whorl began participating in the Special Olympics after she told her parents she really wanted to play tennis for competition.

Her family is involved in the plunge; her brother and sister are planning to plunge with her. Brianna’s dad, Kevin, is running that day’s cornhole tournament to raise money for the games.

Penn State Altoona students jump into freezing waters at Canoe Creek State Park during the Polar Plunge on Jan. 30, 2016. The Winter Games Polar Plunge will take place at Canoe Creek on Saturday to raise money to benefit Special Olympics Pennsylvania. Mirror file photo

Whorl’s mom, Chris, witnessed a change in Brianna when she started competing in the Special Olympics.

“The growth she has had personally — not only from competing, but from traveling and meeting people and having fun with peers — has been an amazing opportunity,” she said.

Trooper Christopher A. Fox, community service officer for the Pennsylvania State Police, volunteers for Special Olympic events because he sees the good and the fun the organization provides.

“I’m a big supporter of the Special Olympics in general and for fundraising for a great organization that does a whole lot of good,” he said.

He has plunged before and encourages people to sign up to do the same because it aids the athletes in participating at no cost for their sports.

“It’s one of the major fund­raisers for the Winter Games. They lean on public support and it’s important we back them. I’d ask people in Blair and surrounding counties to come out and show their support,” Fox said.

Like Fox, many plungers return each year for the cause and because it is an entertaining fundraiser.

“It is so inclusive — everybody can do it and can enjoy it — and that’s what our organization is about. It’s so fun and crazy. We are very lucky ours is successful and continues to grow through the support of local companies and people,” Kury said.

The plunge continues to expand and Whorl would also like to see the Special Olympics grow. She urges new people to sign up for the games.

“I want to get more people with disabilities to join the Special Olympics so they can see how they can make new friends and how fun it is,” she said.

Kury agreed. “The programs in our area and the coaches and the athletes are great; our athletes are so cool,” she said.

If you go

What: Special Olympics 2020 Winter Games Polar Plunge and Cornhole Tournament

When: Saturday, Feb. 1. Report by 8:30 a.m. for the Cornhole Tournament. Registration begins at 9 a.m. for the plunge, which will take place at noon. Opening ceremonies begin at 11:30 a.m.

Where: Canoe Creek State Park

Admission: Admission is free. To participate in the plunge, a $50 registration fee is required to benefit the Winter Games. Registration for the Cornhole Tournament is $50 per team.

Registration: For more information and to register for the Cornhole Tournament, visit www.classy.org/event /2020-wg-plunge-corn-hole-tournament/e262622.

For more information and to register for the Polar Plunge, visit www.classy.org/event/2020-winter-games-polar-plunge/e241270.

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