‘Take the plunge,’ fundraising for Special Olympic athletes

Medford, Ore.– Temperatures are dropping but if you think you’re cold, you’ve got nothing on the hundreds of Rogue Valley locals who took part in this morning’s “polar plunge” at the Jackson Aquatic Center to support Southern Oregon Special Olympic athletes.

Some might call it crazy but when jumping into frigid waters is for a great cause, many answer the call.

“To see the people happy and it’s for a good cause. It makes our sports keep going,” said Michael Ekelman, a Special Olympian. Ekelman, who is a part of Jackson County Special Olympics, usually takes the plunge himself but decided to let others take his place this year.

“I grew up playing sports so it means a lot to me to have everyone be able to play,” said Thomas Welch, vice president of Rogue Community College Student Government. It was the first time the student government participated but Welch says they had loads of fun, even if it was freezing.

The annual Southern Oregon Polar Plunge is more than just a test of your mettle,  it’s a way to raise awareness and support the dreams of Special Olympians.

“Since I have autism, it’s a good opportunity to be in the community, to make a difference and how best to support people with disabilities,” said Eric Thompson. He’s been a Special Olympian for over 15 years and took the plunge twice in support of his fellow athletes.

For Kim Andresen, who coordinated the event for the first time, it was especially meaningful.

“It really touched my heart because I have a son on the autism spectrum and he’s impacted by OCD and some other things,” said Andresen. “It really meant a lot to me to be able to help our community of athletes with the fundraising part as well as the plunge.”

While money is still being counted, Andresen says they’ve already raised about $25,000 which means more chances to compete for Special Olympic athletes.

“It’s good because we didn’t know how many people would come out to support us cause a lot of people don’t know what Special Olympic is,” said Veronica Franco, Special Olympian. “So the more they come to our event the more they know about us.”

Franco has been an athlete for eight years. In that time she’s been able to try a variety of sports but found her calling in basketball and softball. Now, with fundraising events like the “polar plunge” she gets to continue playing and drawing the support of the community. Which means all the world to these athletes and their loved ones.

“People there will support you no matter what. If you fail, you fall whatever. They right on next to you. Keep your hopes up,” said Franco.

Money raised from this event will directly support Southern Oregon Special Olympic athletes and their teams. The funds help to cover all costs for the competitors and their families as they continue chasing their dreams.

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