Registration open for March plunge into Lake Michigan

January 23, 2012|By Mick Swasko, RedEye

Chicago's beach season doesn't kick off until Memorial Day in May, but a couple thousand desperate for a dip will hop in to Lake Michigan in March.

Susan Nicholl, the executive director of Special Olympics Chicago, said she expects more than 2,000 to take a dip at North Avenue Beach March 4 for the 12th installment of the Polar Plunge. The fundraiser, where participants are asked to raise a minimum of $125, benefits Special Olympics Chicago. This year, Nicholl said, the organization expects to see the most participation ever, and is looking to break $500,000 raised, another record. The anatomy of a plunge is simple: Individuals or teams wait their turn, and in groups of 30, charge the chilled waters of the Great Lake to splash around for the better part of two-minutes.

Registration is open at www.sochicago.org, and teams must raise an average of $125 per person by the day of the plunge. Splashing starts at 10 a.m., and the cold, wet masses get a t-shirt and towel for their dedication. A "melt down" party will also be hosted in the beach's boathouse, with free food and non-alcoholic drinks for participants. Those who need a stiff drink to warm up can take a crack at the cash-bar.

"My favorite part is probably the absolute rush of adrenaline and euphoria every time a group goes down the chute into the water," Nicholl said, adding that participants are cheered on by a wild group of spectators as they rush into the water, wading in slowly up to their waists or diving head first for full submersion.

While some clothing is required, it doesn't have to be a bathing suit, Nicholl said. In the past, sororities have painted themselves with their letters and a group snagged the award for "best team costume" by dressing as cavemen and chasing a Woolly Mammoth into the lake. And for those questioning their courage once they get to the icy water, Nicholl said there's no timekeeper at the event.

"We knew we had a marketing challenge on our hands when someone called and asked, "How long do I have to stay under?'" she said.

Last year, the event raised about $430,000 with about 1,700 participants. Last year's fundraising champs were the people on "Team Liquid Courage," who racked up about $33,000 for the charity, which supports more than 5,000 Special Olympics in the Chicago-area.

The fundraiser, where participants are asked to raise a minimum of $125, benefits Special Olympics Chicago. This year, Nicholl said, the organization expects to see the most participation ever, and is looking to break $500,000 raised, another record.

Chicago's beach season doesn't kick off until Memorial Day in May, but a couple thousand desperate for a dip will hop in to Lake Michigan in March.

Susan Nicholl, the executive director of Special Olympics Chicago, said she expects more than 2,000 to take a dip at North Avenue Beach March 4 for the 12th installment of the Polar Plunge. The fundraiser, where participants are asked to raise a minimum of $125, benefits Special Olympics Chicago. This year, Nicholl said, the organization expects to see the most participation ever, and is looking to break $500,000 raised, another record. The anatomy of a plunge is simple: Individuals or teams wait their turn, and in groups of 30, charge the chilled waters of the Great Lake to splash around for the better part of two-minutes.

Registration is open at http://www.sochicago.org, and teams must raise an average of $125 per person by the day of the plunge. Splashing starts at 10 a.m., and the cold, wet masses get a t-shirt and towel for their dedication. A "melt down" party will also be hosted in the beach's boathouse, with free food and non-alcoholic drinks for participants. Those who need a stiff drink to warm up can take a crack at the cash-bar.

"My favorite part is probably the absolute rush of adrenaline and euphoria every time a group goes down the chute into the water," Nicholl said, adding that participants are cheered on by a wild group of spectators as they rush into the water, wading in slowly up to their waists or diving head first for full submersion.

While some clothing is required, it doesn't have to be a bathing suit, Nicholl said. In the past, sororities have painted themselves with their letters and a group snagged the award for "best team costume" by dressing as cavemen and chasing a Woolly Mammoth into the lake. And for those questioning their courage once they get to the icy water, Nicholl said there's no timekeeper at the event.

"We knew we had a marketing challenge on our hands when someone called and asked, 'How long do I have to stay under?'" she said.

Last year, the event raised about $430,000 with about 1,700 participants. Last year's fundraising champs were the people on "Team Liquid Courage," who racked up about $33,000 for the charity, which supports more than 5,000 Special Olympics in the Chicago-area.

mickswasko@tribune.com | @mickswasko

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