By: Domenic Fraboni
It’s a frigid February afternoon. I guess it really wasn’t that bad by Minnesota standards. However, things were complicated by a brisk wind and the fact that the nine of us were all in what you would wear on your average beach day. Somehow we found ourselves standing at the edge of a gaping hole cut in the middle of a frozen lake. Behind us, we heard the announcer over the loud speaker say it was our turn to jump. We promptly stepped up, counted to three, squeezed each other’s hands hard, and took a plunge. The shock was immediate. Instantly the nine of us found ourselves scrambling, clambering, and clawing (well, as fast as we could without straining our now frozen muscles) towards the stairs that led out of the hole. Only a few moments later we were nestled safely in the warming tent, somehow pleased with this seemingly idiotic act. We had taken our plunge for a cause. What cause you ask? We took the Polar Plunge to raise money for Special Olympics Minnesota. Before I tell you more, I want to take you back in time just a little bit to explain more about the Special Olympics Organization.
We travel all the way back to 1968. In this year, Eunice Kennedy Shriver (think younger sister of JFK) stood in Chicago’s Soldier Stadium watching the first ever, International Special Olympic Games. At these games, roughly 1,000 athletes from 26 U.S. States and Canada competed in track and field events. This was the culmination of Miss Shriver’s tireless work throughout the 1950’s and 60’s to bring a higher degree of justness and fairness to how those with intellectual abilities were treated. Now, fast forward to the year 2015. A reported 4.5 million athletes participate in Special Olympics worldwide from over 170 countries, and competed at one of the 94,339 events reported last year. Los Angeles hosted the most recent Special Olympics World Games that drew over 7,000 athletes from all over the world; over 500,000 spectators were in attendance for the games. Special Olympics now provides year-round sports training and athletic competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate resilience, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with other athletes and the community. I think it’s safe to say Eunice’s plan is right on track.
Now let’s zoom in on our little community of Rochester (this is where the Mayo PT program enters the Special Olympic scene). In an effort to become more involved in our community, first year PT students Sarah Bentley and I contacted the local Special Olympics chapter: The Rochester Flyers. They replied with the concern that they did not have enough basketball coaches for the number of athletes they signed up. Now, each week we send a number of our student physical therapists to help coach their practices. Their gratification for our help was immediate, and our students’ responses to the experience were (and continue to be) overwhelming. First year PT student Taylor McWilliams says that he will continue to help coaching because it brings him joy to work with the athletes. He continued by stating, “I almost have more fun playing with them than I did competing in sports in high school.” The fun, enjoyment and companionship these athletes bring to the court truly is contagious. Rochester’s Special Olympic athletes have indeed had just as much an impact on us as we have on them.
This is when we discovered about an upcoming Polar Plunge in Maple Grove, Minnesota. The adventurous PTers were on it in a flash. Led by our fearless plunge captain, Sarah Bentley, the first year Mayo PT class raised $705 dollars for Special Olympics Minnesota and dedicated it to the Rochester Flyer basketball squad for the endless work, dedication and passion they commit to athletics. We are proud that we raised this money. Special Olympics is a non-profit organization that relies almost solely on donations and volunteers to continue their operations. Through this jump, and through our continued coaching, we hope to help provide more and more opportunities for athletes with intellectual disabilities. So, yeah, we took an unadvised plunge through the ice during a Minnesota winter. We would, and likely will, do it again. When’s the last time you took a plunge for a cause?
Acknowledgements: I want to first thank my experience at Concordia College that began my journey volunteering for the Special Olympics organization. I also need to thank my PT classmates for their dedication to service work and the difference they are making in our community. My appreciation also goes out to Lori Torgerson for the pictures of the Rochester athletes and to Haylie Bernacki, from the Special Olympics Headquarters in Washington D.C., for the information on Special Olympics she has provided me over the years.
For more information on Special Olympics:
For information on Rochester Special Olympics and how to get involved: