North Ogden City and Utah’s Special Olympics demonstrated warmth and success — even on bone-chilling, 28-degree mornings — can be wrung out of a handful of wet towels.
The Polar Plunge took place the morning of Jan. 11 at the North Shore Aquatic Center where staff, supporters, Special Olympic Athletes and volunteers all donated their time to work to raise funds for Utah’s Special Olympic Organization. Daring participants could “take the Polar Plunge” by jumping into a 42 degree swimming pool and trying, through any and all means, to get across quickly.
Jennifer Percival, a program assistant for the Utah Special Olympics, explained how the organization utilizes every penny that their fundraising activities bring in, as they are an organization which is largely funded by donations.
“Anytime Special Olympics does fundraising, that money stays in Utah,” Percival said, “and it will only go back to support Utah athletes.”
Donations are used for everything from providing equipment, keeping traditions alive and strong and, most importantly, providing free opportunities and activities for Utah’s Special Olympic athletes and their families.
2020 was Percival’s first year organizing the Polar Plunge.
“I’ve really learned how important it is for a team to come together, and I’ve seen how generous people can be,” Percival said. “There’s always some way to help, something always needs to be done.”
People showed up to participate in the plunge from all over Northern Utah. Some participants were volunteers and others were athletes and their family members.
Before a single toe was dipped into the pool, crowds huddled around portable umbrella heaters, wrapped up in blankets and towels and sipping hot cocoa. “We’re freezin’ for a good reason” was the slogan for some attendees.
Chris Priseno, who jumped into the 42 degree water, swam across the freezing pool and got back out into the 28 degree air, has been involved with the Utah Special Olympics since 1991. He is one of the Special Olympics athletes. “I do it to support the team,” Priseno said.
Priseno commented further on how important the program has been in his life, expressing his gratitude to the Special Olympics Program, their staff and their volunteers.
“Without Special Olympics,” Priseno said, “I’d probably be at home bored half to death and not be able to do a lot of stuff.”
One first time volunteer, Levi Backman, found out about the Polar Plunge though an app. Backman described himself as an outgoing person. He showed up looking for ways to support the event and didn’t know what to expect.
Backman was tasked with the job of helping get the athletes registered as they came into the event, and he helped make sure that the participating jumpers paid the Polar Plunge fee.
“A lot of us, nowadays, want to change the world by big means. It boils down to one-on-ones. I’ve seen that through serving, causing people to feel loved, that’s what changes the world on a large scale,” Backman said. “It’s a domino effect, even something as small as a smile can change a person’s day.”
Dr. John Pobanz, owner of Pobanz Orthodontics, has been a supporter with the North Ogden Polar Plunge for the past four years, but this year, he wanted to step it up a notch for 2020’s event. He wore a superman suit for the costume contest that was held just before the plunge, along with several other people who dressed up for the event.
Pobanz was able to get nearly fifty individuals inspired to take action and show up, even if they didn’t dive into the freezing water.
“I think whenever you actively do something, as you participate both emotionally and physically, it has more meaning to you,” Pobanz said. “It creates a life instance that you can reflect back on, and there’s a lot of value for teams. It’s great for the community to engage in something tangible, something memorable.”
Pobanz has found that whenever he lets people know about something that’s got a good cause behind it, his clients, in general, want to get involved.
After taking the plunge, Pobanz said, “At first, it’s always a lot of energy with the music, all of the attendees. Then afterward, it’s all about getting warm.”