Feb. 10, 2014
By Scott Kemps, Michigan Media Relations
There have been many signature moments at Michigan Stadium: Desmond Howard's catch against Notre Dame; the first night football game; the Big Chill at the Big House; spring commencements. However, none of these come close to matching how important the Polar Plunge is to the Special Olympics of Michigan. The first-ever plunge raised $125,419 and featured more than 300 participants, many of whom worked in the U-M Athletic Department.
The event materialized in the fall of 2012 when the Michigan Athletic Department announced a community service relationship with the Special Olympics of Michigan, committing team member and venue support for the non-profit group. The athletic department went through a vetting process for a community partner where all of the U-M employees could contribute their time and talents to enrich the University of Michigan community.
On Feb. 23, 2013, U-M held its inaugural Polar Plunge -- one of 31 held around the state. The money raised last year supported the more than 20,000 athletes in the state of Michigan.
With more than a dozen athletic department employees participating in the event, department team members took home different experiences.
"Taking part in the Polar Plunge was truly a unique experience," said Chris Rodela, associate director of event presentation, who raised nearly $800 for last year's plunge. "Of all the ways to give to the Special Olympics, this is, in my mind, the most rewarding and special way to be part of something that goes towards a great cause and organization."
Sarah Henry, coordinator of the Polar Plunge in the state of Michigan, echoes the statement of the event's uniqueness.
"Of the 31 plunges throughout the state, U-M has one of the most amazing plunges that we put on. Even after one year, the U-M Plunge is holding steady as the second-highest fundraiser in the entire state," she said.
Dave Brandon, the Donald R. Shepherd Director of Athletics, stresses a culture of excellence, as well as creating a "WOW" experiences for fans -- something this event definitely touches on.
"This plunge sets itself apart with the fantastic U-M Athletics committee that strives to make this event the best that it can be. With the "WOW" factor of plunging at the Big House, to the celebrity judges, and the unique locker room experience, the tunnel and the field -- this plunge has become the most exciting plunge to participate in," remarked Henry.
The 2014 Polar Plunge at Michigan Stadium will be take place on Saturday, Feb. 22, at noon.
"We are again honored to partner with Special Olympics Michigan and help make this great organization make a positive difference in the lives of special athletes and their families," said chief talent officer Kristen Orlowski, who has raised more than $10,000 in her two years of fundraising for the event, and still has nearly two weeks to go before the second version of the plunge. "We're looking forward to our second plunge and we encourage individuals, families, teams and businesses to participate in the event."
Many of last year's participants from athletics are back for more, while some like guest relations coordinator Jenny Scherer and facility manager Shawn Birchmeier are taking the plunge for the first time.
"I haven't really done anything like this before, but I am excited to be involved in something that goes towards such a great cause," said Scherer, who can be found in the Michigan Stadium tunnel during football, as well as men's lacrosse games. "Even more rewarding is seeing the massive amount of support that I am receiving from our event team. I am extremely appreciative of all of the 'warm' wishes!"
Birchmeier echoes Scherer's sentiments.
"It is definitely something that I can look back on and say that I did. The fact that it helps out a great cause is just a bonus in my mind," said Birchmeier, who has raised more than $1,200. Along with his facility duties, Birchmeier also played a key role in the snow removal process at the Big House prior to the NHL Winter Classic.
"Knowing how cold I was out there prior to the Winter Classic, even in multiple layers, I definitely thought about how cold it was going to be for the event," said Birchmeier. "Then I thought, if it remains this cold outside, then maybe, when I jump into the water it will feel warm!"
One thing can be certain however, both Scherer and Birchmeier are looking to emerge from their usual tasks of a support role at Michigan Stadium and into the limelight to raise thousands for such a great cause. As for their costumes, both remain coy, but Scherer seems to have the right idea.
"I have a few ideas up my sleeve, and I have a strategic plan. The less time I have to be cold, the better! " she said.