Dozens Take On A Florida-Style 'Polar Plunge' For Special Olympics Florida

Mar 24, 2019

Teams and costume-clad swimmers walked, ran and jumped into the 'cold' waters of Adventure Island on Saturday as part of the first Tampa Polar Plunge fundraiser for Special Olympics Florida. 

In recent years, the Polar Plunge has been held in Orlando, now the a handful of cities in Florida are hosting the event, including Tampa, Miami and Jacksonville. 

Donations totaled more than $28,000 over the weekend, more than half the set goal amount. Hillsborough County Special Olympics Director Ken Roop said the family-friendly event helps the organization cover the cost of the games.

"We pay for the competitions. We pay for uniforms. We pay for the food, the transportation, equipment," Roop said. "That's where all this money goes to."

A Polar Plunge participant receives her plaque for best costume.
Credit Ashley Lisenby | WUSF

There are more than 50,000 Special Olympics athletes in Florida. Athlete and Special Olympics Florida Ambassador William Corsi, 36, has been participating in the games for more than 20 years. He talked about how proud he was to be involved with the organization before the plunge event. 

Corsi has taken the plunge himself every year for nine years, he said. 

He still thinks it's, "breathtaking."

Billie Smolenaars (right) walks back to grab a towel with her friends after participating in the Polar Plunge on Saturday, March 23.
Credit Ashley Lisenby | WUSF

First-time plunge participant Billie Smolenaars, of Canada, and her friends dressed up for the event as queens. They waded into the water wearing their plastic bejeweled crowns. 

The morning's 60-degree temperatures were no match for the frigid air of Canada winters, but Smolenaars smiled as she dried herself off, happy to have made the plunge. 

The state Special Olympics games will be held in May in Orlando.