The Lebanon Polar Plunge is set for Feb. 1 to see its 20th group of penguins — although without the webbed feet — plunge into freezing waters to benefit the Wilson County Special Olympics.
The event takes place annually at the Jimmy Floyd Family Center and was the brainchild of former Lebanon Mayor Don Fox, who served in the Navy, where polar plunges are common. He also wanted to find an event that would benefit the Wilson County Special Olympics.
“The Polar Bear Plunge was kind of the first big special event we did at Jimmy Floyd. When we originally started it, it was on New Year’s Day,” said Lebanon City Council member Jeni Lind Brinkman, who worked at the Floyd Center as aquatics manager at the time.
“I remember it being way colder than we expected it to be. I think the temperature dropped the day before,” said Brinkman, who said she also remembers the spirited crowd. “I remember thinking, ‘OK. We’ll do this. I really don’t think a lot of people are going to show up.’ I remember being really surprised at the turnout.”
Brinkman said she remembers training lifeguards on how to spot someone suffering from shock, but said they never had to use the training.
“Some participants of Special Olympics were doing the plunge with everyone that day. It was great. It was nice to see all of the families — adults and children — having fun,” she said. “I’m glad to see they’ve continued it all of these years. It’s something unique to Jimmy Floyd.”
Jimmy Floyd aquatics manager Alex Major joined the center in 2004 and said he’s looking forward to his 16th polar plunge.
“It’s always an inspiring event. These kids, whether it be access to facilities or just lack of leagues in some sports, don’t get a lot of opportunities to compete, but we’re able to provide them with the opportunity to compete in swimming,” Major said.
The Wilson County Special Olympics swim meet typically takes place after the plunge. However, this year the swim meet is schedule for Jan. 18.
The Floyd Center donates space for the swim meet and manpower to run the timing system at the indoor pool. The event also features an award ceremony in the facility’s multipurpose room.
Wilson County Special Olympics director George Walker said the event is special to the organization.
“This is really our main fundraiser. It’s really the only fundraiser that we have in order to raise money,” said Walker, who said the event has a goal of $10,000 for the 2020 plunge.
He said proceeds are used for Special Olympics travel and lodging costs for state events, as well as any uniform needs.
Walker, in his second year as director, said he had heard of similar polar plunges throughout other regions, but said the Floyd Center makes the Lebanon event different than others.
“We’re fortunate that we have the Jimmy Floyd Center that allows us to do our polar plunge there. We’re lucky that we have a place to host it,” Walker said.
2020 WILSON COUNTY POLAR PLUNGE
When: Saturday, Feb. 1, 10 a.m. (registration at 9 a.m.)
Where: Jimmy Floyd Family Center, Lebanon
What: Fundraiser for Wilson County Special Olympics
Contact: Register online at polarplungetn.com. For questions call (615) 547-1213