Each year, the Polar Plunge brings together thousands of warm-hearted individuals from across the state. It’s a great way for everyone – individuals, organizations and businesses – to support Special Olympics Illinois. All funds raised go to provide programing and events for more than 21,000 traditional athletes and 9,000 Young Athletes participating in Illinois.
How to Participate?
The concept is simple: participants raise a minimum of $100 in donations from friends, family and co-workers in exchange for getting icy for the athletes of Special Olympics Illinois!
Check out the How You Can Get Involved page and then our Get Started page to learn the ins and outs of hitting the water.
Under 18, no problem. Individuals under the age of 18 are able to participate but must have a parent or guardian sign a waiver form.
Attire: Anything goes, except a wetsuit. Costumes are encouraged, but please keep them family friendly in nature.
Each plunger who raises $100 or more receives an exclusive 2023 Polar Plunge sweatshirt, plus the chance to win additional prizes for raising more money.
What Does It Takes to Be a “Plunger”?
Anyone with a little guts and a warm heart wanting to support Special Olympics Illinois athletes is welcome to participate. In past years, participants have included children and adults, football players, mayors, police chiefs and officers, sheriffs and deputies, corporate employees, civic organizations, high school clubs, fraternities and sororities, media personalities and everyone in between.
What Puts the “Icing on the Lake”?
Nearly $27 million that has been raised by more than 87,000 Plungers since the event’s inception 24 years ago.
Its purpose is to simply raise funds to enhance the Special Olympics Illinois mission: To provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in 18 Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families and other Special Olympics Illinois athletes and the community.
When and Where the Plunge “Broke the Ice”?
- 1999: The Plunge started in Lake Bluff and was a huge success, with 150 Plungers raising more than $34,000.
- 2000: A second Plunge added at Lake of the Woods in Mahomet. That combined with Lake Bluff event, saw 280 Plungers raise more than $79,000.
- 2001: A third Plunge was added at Rend Lake in Southern Illinois. Combined, there were 234 Plungers who raised more than $95,000.
- 2002: A fourth Plunge was added at Lake Decatur. Combined, there were 317 Plungers who raised more than $121,000.
- 2003: Three more Plunges were added in Galesburg, Manteno and Springfield. Combined, the seven Plunges had 524 Plungers who raised nearly $191,000.
- 2004: Five more Plunges are added in Yorkville, Carlyle, Effingham, Peoria and Quincy. In total, the 12 Plunges had 1,073 Plungers who raised more than $292,000.
- 2005: Two new Plunges were added in Rockford and Palatine, bringing the total to 14 Plunge sites. Nearly $420,000 was raised by 1,429 Plungers
- 2006: Evanston was added to the locations for Plunges hosting both a single-time Plunge and the SUPER Plunge, where participants Plunge once an hour every hour for 24 hours. In total, 1,625 Plungers raised more than $539,000.
- 2007: A Plunge was added at Fox Lakes and the Peoria Plunge was relocated to Bloomington. At the 16 Plunge locations, 2,050 Plungers raised nearly $638,000.
- 2008: No new locations were added. Nearly $858,000 was raised by 2,672 Plungers.
- 2009: A new Plunge was added at Lincoln. Nearly $944,000 was raised by 3,623 Plungers.
- 2010: No new locations were added. GEICO added as a Presenting Sponsor for the Plunges statewide. For the first time, the Polar Plunges raised more than $1 million and 45 SUPER Plungers raised more than $100,000! In fact, more than $1.3 was raised by 5,154 Plungers.
- 2011: A new Plunge was added at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, bringing the total of locations to 18. More than $1.4 million was raised by 5,752 Plungers.
- 2012: Two new Plunges were added in Rock Island and Joliet, bringing the total to 20 locations. More than $1.6 million was raised by 6,288 Plungers statewide.
- 2013: No new locations added. More than $1.7 million was raised by 6,913 Plungers statewide.
- 2014: No new locations added. More than $2.1 million was raised by 7,352 Plungers statewide.
- 2015: Illini Plunge added at University of Illinois Memorial Stadium in Champaign, bringing total of locations to 21 around the state at which to Plunge! First Polar Donut Dash was added to the Southern Illinois University Polar Plunge. More than $2.25 million was raised by 7,666 Plungers statewide.
- 2016: New Plunges at Macomb and Oak Brook were added and Donut Dash was added to the Mahomet Polar Plunge. Plunges at University of Illinois and Lake Bluff were dropped. Evanston and SUPER Plunges were relocated to Clark Street Beach. Minimum amount to plunge raised to $100.
- 2017: A new Plunge at Mendota was added and the Polar Donut Dash expanded to include the Carlyle Lake Polar Plunge.
- 2018: Plunge returns to University of Illinois campus and the addition of a Polar Plunge in Belleville. Donut Dash was added to Joliet Polar Plunge. Plunge at Lincoln was dropped bringing total of locations to 23.
- 2019: Two new Plunge are added in Peoria and Eastern Illinois University; taking place on the front lawn of the Peoria Civic Center and EIU Campus. EIU offers the only opportunity in the state to take part in the “glow-plunge”! The SUPER Plunge and Evanston Plunge are both returning to the beach of Lake Michigan on the campus of Northwestern University. The Plunge at the University of Illinois has been dropped bringing the total number of Plunge locations to 23.
- 2020: The Peoria Polar Plunge will be relocated inside of Dozer Park in downtown Peoria. The facility is home of the Peoria Chiefs, the Class A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals. A Plunge was added in Braidwood replacing the Joliet Plunge. Eastern Illinois University will also host a Plunge on campus bringing our total number of Plunge locations to 25.
- 2021: Plungers were able to Plunge at Home to support the athletes of Special Olympics Illinois. At Home Plungers raise $100 in donations online and then pick their date, time and location to Be Bold to Get Cold at home!
- 2022: Participants were both back in person and DIY-ing their own Plunges when they chose to Plunge OUR Way or Plunge YOUR Way. Throughout the state, Plunges raised more than $1.8 million to support Special Olympics Illinois athletes.
*Please be safe with your Create Your Own Plunge choices. Special Olympics Illinois is not responsible for any injuries that occur while participating in the Create Your Own Plunge option. Learn more here.*