Special Olympics Polar Plunge comes to Woodbury next month

Woodbury. Participants help raise funds for local athletes.

| 19 Sep 2023 | 04:49

Gather your family, grab your friends and double-dare your co-workers to take part in this year’s Orange County Special Olympics Polar Plunge on Saturday, Oct. 21, at the Earl Reservoir in Woodbury.

The event, which took place last year in Greenwood Lake, kicks off at noon and consists of teams of people or individuals who come together to pledge their monetary support for local Special Olympics New York athletes before taking the plunge (or “virtual plunge”) into the icy fall waters of the Earl Reservoir.

“We love Greenwood Lake but there was not a lot of room for parking and the Earl Reservoir location should allow us to grow the plunge in Orange County,” said Teresa Gilli, director of development at Special Olympics New York, Hudson Valley Region. “We raised $10,000 our first year at Greenwood Lake, around $19,000 the second year and this year we hope to raise even more.”

Special Olympics fundraising events in Orange County have increased in recent years thanks, in large part, to Eric and Autumn Lunser, who helped start the Law Enforcement Torch Run in Middletown and the polar plunge in Greenwood Lake upon moving here from the Rochester area, said Gilli, who noted that law enforcement raised upwards of $2 million last year for Special Olympics New York.

The idea to move this year’s plunge to Earl Reservoir was born after Brandon Calore, a Woodbury town councilman, participated in his first Polar Plunge in Fishkill in February.

“I am a member of the CSEA [Civil Service Employees Association] through my job and I found out that the Special Olympics Polar Plunge is very important to CSEA members, so I decided to take part in the Fishkill plunge earlier this year. Our team was the top fundraiser and I loved it and found more and more people wanted to do it, including my daughter. I started making phone calls because I thought we could have a plunge here and I got in touch with Teresa and we began the process of bringing it to Woodbury.”

With the help of the members of the Woodbury Town Board, Town Clerk Desiree Potvin and others, “Woodbury at the Rez” was facilitated into reality.

The money raised through Special Olympics fundraisers such as the polar plunges goes directly to supporting the athletes as they compete in the 40 or so events held throughout the year. With some 3,200 Special Olympics athletes in the Hudson Valley region alone, every dollar counts.

“We never charge our athletes or their families or caregivers to participate in any of our program events that they compete in throughout the year,” Gilli said. “They compete in sports like softball, horseback riding, soccer, track, and field. New York has calculated that it costs anywhere from $300 to $500 per athlete per year.”

One of those athletes is Brewster resident Will Smith, who finds time to work alongside Gilli when he is not competing in floor hockey, track and field, softball, golf, or bowling.

“I have been involved in Special Olympics for 25 years and it is near and dear to my heart,” said Smith, who is often joined on the playing fields by his twin sister, Becky. “Events like the Polar Plunge not only raise money to support us as athletes, but they allow people to connect and bond and share something they will never forget.”

Gilli said that while the official suggested donation is $150 to take the plunge, any donation, no matter how large or small, is encouraged. She added that the polar plunges are controlled environments with EMS and warm beverages on hand.

“I have a Team Woodbury,” said Calore. “Someone can make a Team Cornwall. A fire department can make a team. Every municipality in Orange County, theoretically, can make a team and fundraise. We encourage our local schools to get involved and create teams and compete. This is for the athletes. It starts with the athletes and ends with the athletes.”

For more information or to register for this year’s Orange County Special Olympics Polar Plunge, visit polarplungeny.org.