For hours on Saturday, teams from area law enforcement, schools and businesses joined Special Olympians as they braved the chilly waters of Cabela’s pond for the annual Law Enforcement Polar Plunge benefitting Special Olympics Louisiana.
Despite the 50-degree water temperatures, dozens lined up to take the plunge, many wearing creative costumes.
The event raises money and awareness for Special Olympics Louisiana. Funds from the event help pay for the games and medical check-ups for the athletes.
President and CEO of Special Olympics Louisiana Pat Carpenter Bourgeois said that while Saturday’s turnout was great and the event raised more than $70,000, she wants residents to know that Special Olympics needs support now more than ever.
“I want people to know that even though they think Special Olympics may not be relevant to them, they would find something inspiring in Special Olympics,” she said. “We need everyone. We have 15,000 athletes in Louisiana and about that many volunteers, but we need more. If there is a company that wants to make a connection, and not just write a check, they will build team spirit within their organization.”
Bourgeois has been involved with Special Olympics for the past 46 years, just four years shy of Special Olympics’ creation. She saw a need for her own special needs students to have physical exercise and stimulation.
“I knew it would be great for my students to be involved. They gained self-esteem. Through Special Olympics, they can become a star,” Bourgeois said.
Only two polar plunges take place in the state; however, Bourgeois remains hopeful as Alexandria, New Orleans and Covington have expressed interest in hosting polar plunges to benefit Special Olympics.
Covington Mayor Mike Cooper took part in this year’s plunge at Cabela’s along with his police department.
Bourgeois said Special Olympics provides children with disabilities a chance to compete in athletic events and pick up important skills. In addition, she said, special needs individuals who have participated in Special Olympics are 50 percent more likely to have jobs.
Ward Webb, co-chairman of the local Polar Plunge, said volunteers who take part do more than just raise money.
“It’s not about fundraising but learning,” Webb said. “The Special Olympics athletes are never sad. They are always happy. If we could be like them, the world would be a better place.”
Webb, who works for the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office, raised more than $30,000 this year.
This year, approximately 35 teams took the plunge at Cabela’s. Plungers included members of the St. Amant High School Student Council, the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office, Baton Rouge teachers, Knights of Columbus 8906 from Thibodaux, Gonzales Police Department, Eatel Corp., Galvez-Lake Volunteer Fire Department, LSU Police Department, State Troopers and the U.S. Marine Corps.
Twins Candace and Stephanie Montgomery, in matching costumes, made the plunge hand in hand with Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie. “We jump to raise money for Special Olympics,” Candace Montgomery said.
“My favorite thing was winning third place in the costume contest,” Stephanie Montgomery said.
“The girls grew up with BRPD. We feel honored we were given this gift. The whole department embraces all Special Olympics athletes,” Scott Montgomery said.
Bourgeois said the organization appreciates the involvement each year shown by local law enforcement, who, in addition to organizing the plunge, host a torch run before the games.
“The Polar Plunge is about solidifying friendships with our law enforcement among other things,” Bourgeois said.
Webb encouraged other in law enforcement and business to “just get involved” with Special Olympics Louisiana.
“It’s more than just athletics but free medical services,” Webb said. “There are thousands more in the state who need access to this.”