OSWEGO, NY – Mayor Tom Gillen stood in the Wright’s Landing parking lot and smiled Saturday as he surveyed the hundreds of people in various stages of attire. Some were in parkas and hoodies. Others were in shorts and T-shirts, dressed as their favorite superheroes or shivering in swimwear.
An estimated more than 300 people, young and old, subjected themselves to the “Ultimate Polar Shower.”
“This really says a lot about our community,” the mayor said. “It’s like 15 degrees and the windchill is even colder and all these people have come out to help support Special Olympics. This is really a great turnout for a great cause!”
It was originally planned as a Polar Plunge. However, Mother Nature forced organizers to re-think this year’s event.
Oswego Harbor remains locked in with more than four feet of hard-packed snow and ice.
“It’s just not safe to have people jumping in the water in these conditions,” said Special Olympics volunteer Lt. Charlie Searor from the Oswego Police Department.
Searor worked with Assistant Fire Chief John Chawgo to come up with a plan to save the fundraiser.
Working with Special Olympics staff, volunteers and the city of Oswego, they devised the “Polar Shower” plan.
Participants were still “Freezin’ For A Reason’” with the Oswego Fire Department showering the crowd from top of a fire truck ladder.
The event began at 1 p.m. and by 1:03 p.m. everyone was scrambling for some dry clothes and warmth.
“It’s been an exciting week. We went from Polar Plunge to now we’re the Ultimate Polar Shower, thanks to the inhospitable conditions of the harbor,” said Cassandra Rucker, Special Olympics director of development for the Central Region. “We had no clue back in September when we were scheduling things that this would be the coldest winter in 100 years.”
This is the only place where they can’t have heavy equipment dig out the ice because it is a concrete boat launch, she pointed out.
The event was backed up into March since its normal April date is close to Easter.
The volunteers have been “super fabulous” through the entire event leading up to the Polar Shower, Rucker said.
She cited the great fund-raising competition being waged by Oswego City Pol”ice” and RAK it ON.
“All week, every time one would get to the top of the list – the other one runs out and raises some more money,” she said. “So, we have this tough competition going on for first place bragging rights.”
They had 181 participants preregistered by noon with scores more signing up before the 12:30 p.m. deadline
Twenty-eight teams were represented.
“We are way up in numbers (over last year) and feel really good about hitting our $20,000 goal,” Rucker said. “It’s all about ‘silly and chilly.’ Basically, Polar Plunge is an international event. It’s held all around the world to raise money for Special Olympics. The nature of Polar Plunge is a lot about beforehand, the events and fundraising; then, before you know it, you’re wet and it’s over.”
Amy Collette was taking part in her eighth plunge event.
“I used to coach Special Olympics in Buffalo. My nephew was born with Down’s Syndrome and I think that if he can overcome that – I can overcome being cold for a little while,” she told Oswego County Today.
“This is helping a great cause,” added her friend Brad Farnham. “It’s wonderful to see such a large turnout – especially on such a cold day.”
At the appointed hour, the fire hose unleashed thousands of gallons of water on the revelers.
“The water was actually a bit warmer than the air temperature!” one young lady exclaimed.
As the spray moved from the police department team across the other participants, most scurried to find warm shelter after being drenched.
A few, however, embraced the frosty deluge and posed to allow friends and family to take pictures.
Special Olympics is the largest amateur sports organization in the world.
With 64,659 athletes, Special Olympics New York is the largest chapter in North America and the sixth largest chapter in the world.
Special Olympics New York athletes train and compete year-round in 22 sports, the Young Athletes Program and the Motor Activities Training Program – at no cost to the athlete, their families or their caregivers.
For more information visit www.nyso.org and www.PolarPlungeNY.org/Oswego