Would you jump into Lake Superior in February? What if it was for a good cause? For Cook County resident Bryann Bockovich, the answer is yes–12 times over. The Duluth Polar Plunge takes place in February in the big lake and Bryann Bockovich and her team will be participating again, as they have since 2010.
“This will be my 12th year doing the Plunge,” Bockovich said. “I’ve done it in Duluth multiple times and also in St. Cloud and Maple Grove.”
Special Olympics is a sports organization for people with disabilities. Special Olympics Minnesota is a program of Special Olympics, and provides sports training programs and competition opportunities for a wide range of sports such as skiing, basketball, equestrian, and track and field to people in Minnesota. Although competition is part of Special Olympics, it is a broader movement promoting inclusive opportunities for sports.
The Polar Plunge is Special Olympics’ most well-known fundraiser, and was started when police officers from the Law Enforcement Torch Run, a different fundraising event for Special Olympics, decided to start the Polar Plunge. Polar Plunge events take place in over 20 cities in Minnesota each winter, including Duluth. (In fact, 2023 marks 25 years since the Polar Plunge started in Minnesota.)
Participants, known as Plungers, register for the event and need to raise a minimum of $75 to participate, with all proceeds going to Special Olympics Minnesota. Many Plungers, including Bockovich, organize into teams. Bockovich’s team is called Holli’s Hope.
“I started with my best friend whose daughter is in Special Olympics,” Bockovich said. “It started just the two of us, then it grew and grew with friends and family. This year there are 14 people on the team, many from Cook County along with a few from Duluth and the Twin Cities.”
The idea of jumping into freezing water may seem daunting, but Bockovich said the event is well-organized and takes place in a supportive environment. Plungers typically check in the night before and are given a plunge time for the next day. There are changing areas and a warming tent where Plungers can warm up after getting out of the icy water. And as for the jump itself?
“I’m not going to lie–it’s cold,” Bockovich said. “Every year I still stand at the hole and think, ‘Why do I do this?’ But the rush is crazy and every year I’m glad I did it. I think once you do it, you’re hooked. I’ve gotten a lot of people hooked on doing it over the years.”
It’s the spectators that make the event so memorable, Bockovich said.
“The day of is amazing and the spectators are the best part,” Bockovich said. “People are out there cheering for you and there’s a whole camaraderie. People dress up in costumes or different themes–they had a costume contest one year which was a lot of fun. And you have a lot of the athletes there cheering, and people usually always know someone who is involved in Special Olympics, so you all have a tie to each other. It’s a sight to see even if you don’t jump.”
The Duluth Polar Plunge will be held on February 18 this year. Registration for the Polar Plunge typically opens the October prior to the event and remains open until right before the event.
“I’d say got for it. If nothing else, mark it off a bucket list,” Bockovich said. “I think jumping into Lake Superior is one of the best ones because everyone knows Lake Superior and how cold it is anyway. Even if you’ve done other ones in the state, the Duluth one is one to attend or to do. It’s a cause that needs to be supported, so I say just do it.”
To learn more about the Polar Plunge, visit: plungemn.org.