Taking The Plunge For The Special Olympics
By Cookie Steponaitis
photo by providedPlunging Tradition continues for Little City Dippers Sarah Leach and Lissa Gebo.
Lake Champlain is inhabited this time of year by a unique and some might even say strange creature. No, it is not the ice fishermen out for their catch or even the devoted skaters looking for a very large place to skate. It is the annual migration and configuration of people from all over the state of all ages who get together to willingly put on a bathing suit and plunge into the cold waters of Lake Champlain’s winter temps. Why? It is all about the athletes of the Special Olympics.
No doubt for eighteen days in February the televisions of millions will be tuned into South Korea and the Olympic Games. Medals will be won, legends established and stories of champions and unknowns rising to moments of glory will fill the airwaves and social media. At the same time the athletes in South Korea will be center stage, the Special Olympics Penguin Plunge will happen at different locations around the state offering participants the chance to raise funds and take a dip in Vermont’s icy waters, earning them bragging rights and membership in a special group of people.
The Penguin Plunge Event is in its twenty-third year and the centerpiece of fundraising that allows the Special Olympics of Vermont programs for training and competition for special athletes, health screenings and leadership opportunities for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. The Special Olympics of Vermont serves 1,310 athletes, 400 Unified partners and has thirteen sports and nine state wide competitions each year. Last year the Penguin Plunge raised an impressive $572,000 or 40% of the organization’s budget. It is a great deal of fun for the plungers and is also about inclusion of all athletes in programs to benefit their growth, health and joy.
Little City Dippers Sarah Leach and Lissa Gebo have been a part of this Plunge fun and fundraising for nineteen years and sixteen years respectively. “I continue talking the plunge to support all those who are intellectually challenged and to help keep them active and enjoying the camaraderie of sports,” shared Gebo. Taking her plunge on February 3rd at Burlington Waterfront Park, Gebo’s fundraising page for Special Olympics can be found at Give.specialolympicsvermont.org/fundraiswer/1222860. Others wanting to reach out to multiple plunger Sarah Leach can support her efforts at her page as well. Always one to reach out to the younger generation Gebo is pleased to report she has added some new young plungers to her roster this year. “Alexandria Jewell is plunging with us this year and she is eight years old.” It is never too late according to Gebo and the plunge will not only get your heart racing but will fill it with joy at helping others enjoy all that sports have to offer.
Want to help out, but not sure where to start? Contact Sasha Fisher for help with starting and motivating your team, registration, and any other questions you may have at email@example.com or call (802) 861.0278. If you are a school wanting to get involved, check in with Champlain Union High School who this year as 200 penguin plungers with a total of just over $50,000 in pledges. All for the Vermont Special Olympics and for sporting events and contests here in our home state. Maybe you don’t want to plunge but could volunteer. Or maybe be a partner business? No matter how you get involved, you will be rewarded. Lissa Gebo has an invitation for you. “Come on in,” she grins. “The water is just fine!”