Freezin’ For a Reason
The Polar Plunge offers warn-hearted support for Georgia’s Special Olympics athletes

By Lee Valentine Smith

Often relegated to the final moments of TV newscasts, the Polar Plunge is much more than a quirky human interest story. The eighth-annual Polar Plunge tests the icy endurance of teams and individuals as they make a collective splash to raise money for a good cause as they have a chilly good time. This year, the setting will be the chilled waters of Acworth Beach in support of the athletes of Special Olympics Georgia. We tracked down Rebecca Walsh, Law Enforcement Torch Run and Events Manager, of Georgia’s Special Olympics to get all the details.

Give us a bit of an overview of the event.

It’s one of our biggest fundraisers to benefits Special Olympics Georgia. All the proceeds go 100 percent to providing support to our athletes and coaches. It’s just a fun event and it’s pretty exciting to see all the crazy costumes the participants come up with as we celebrate the success of their fundraising efforts. The Plunge is at 1 p.m. on February 25th, and you can come on out on the event day and just pay to plunge onsite if you want. Onsite registration starts at 11 a.m. The actual plunging itself usually lasts from 1 p.m. until around 3:30 or so.

How do people get involved?

It’s really easy with online registration, and we always stress that it’s good to send in those registration forms as soon as possible. Participants can also set up their own online fundraising page with tools on the website ( The Polar Plunge basically consists of teams which include law enforcement, businesses, schools and individuals. The goal is to have a chance to run into the freezing cold waters of Acworth Beach.

Is this similar to the yearly event up at Lake Lanier?

It’s actually the same event! We had it for seven years at Lake Lanier and it has grown so much, we basically outgrew that space. We had out at Sunset Cove for the past seven years, but Acworth Beach has more space so this year we decided to move it there.

For the uninitiated, how does it work? How long do people stay in the water?

It’s very fast-paced, with completely consecutive events. We’ll announce the teams and they’ll run and take that plunge! Some of our sponsors have teams and they’ll go in first. For some participants, the plunge is just a few seconds. They go in and then they come right back out really fast. But some go in and make a real spectacle and that takes longer. But it really doesn’t take too long because no one wants to stay in that water for very long!

If people are a little apprehensive about the cold temperature or the shock of the experience, can they still participate?

Sure, if you don’t want to run all the way into to the water, you can still dip your toe in. We had some t-shirts once that said, “I’m too chicken to take the plunge.” But some people actually go in and they’ll swim in that water and just make a big event of it, no matter how cold it may be.

If it’s a warm winter, how do you keep the water so icy cold?

This year we’re kind of changing it up a bit and we’ll be having athletes dump ice into the water right before the participants start plunging, for maximum effect. It’s usually a really funny sight.

Tell us about some of the more popular groups who participate.

We have one group who are part of the Knights of Columbus and they call themselves the “Numb Knights.” They’ve done it every time and they raise over $30,000 by themselves every year. They’re probably one of our biggest groups, and they’re based out of John’s Creek.

Will there be additional entertainment and food?

Oh yes, we’ll have Star 94 DJs and their street team at the event and Henry’s Louisiana Grill will be serving food all day. We’ll have a big inflatables and right now we are trying to determine if it’ll be a slide or log-jump inflatables. We’re really going for a festival feel and it’s just a good time for the whole family.

A commemorative t-shirt is a rite of passage for any event; will you have some cool Plunge merch for the participants?

Yes, all plungers will receive a commemorative Plunge t-shirt. And we have additional incentives and prizes for plungers who raise $150 or more. Blankets, tote bags, beanies, even a fleece jacket.

Who benefits from the event?

All of the proceeds go to Special Olympics Georgia and supports year-round sports training and athletic competition in Olympic-type sports. We have our state games, which are held five times a year, then a program called Young Athletes which is for children under seven years old to build motor skills. We also have the Healthy Athletes program which provides health screenings and referrals for all of our athletes for free, and we do that five times a year as well. Fundraising events like the Plunge go completely to fund these programs so that the athletes and their families don’t have to play anything for some much-needed assistance. Last year we made about $140,000 and this year our goal is $150,000.

What’s it like to take the Plunge?

Well, it’s something you’ll never forget. I’ve done it once and it’s really a lot of fun. But, I will say, your feet definitely go numb due to the very cold water. But the adrenaline is pumping and as you are running back out, you can’t feel your feet at all. It’s a totally unique experience.

The Eight Annual Polar Plunge is February 25 from 11 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. at Acworth Beach. For more information, visit



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