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Polar opposite of former event

Instead of gathering in frigid waters, annual fundraiser gets creative online

Gage Tichenor, 20, of Cortland, and Tyler Littell, 22, of Champion, stand next to a frozen Mosquito Lake on Saturday. In years past, the men competed in the annual Polar Plunge to benefit Special Olympics Ohio, but it was canceled this year because of the pandemic. Instead, individuals were asked to complete their own challenges, such as taking a cold bath, dumping an ice bucket on their head or making a snow angel.

BAZETTA — For many winters, Valley residents — often dressed in costumes — have run in and out of the often-icy waters of Mosquito Lake for the annual Polar Plunge.

But because of the coronavirus pandemic, the fundraising event for Special Olympics had to be changed this year from large gatherings at the lake to individual events.

Christine Hoyer, chief development officer for Special Olympics, said like many other events in 2021, the group decided to host the first virtual Polar Plunge fundraiser.

“Polar Plunge My Way” allowed people who were raising money across the state to come up with their own creative way to take the plunge. This would have been the 15th year for the annual icy swim to benefit people with disabilities.

GETTING CREATIVE

The Polar Plunge gives people the opportunity to jump or walk into an area of the water where the ice has been removed.

Jessica Stewart, CEO for Special Olympics Ohio, said due to the COVID-19 pandemic, supporters were “freezin’ for a reason” at home.

She said people could jump into an ice bath or a kiddie pool, dive into the snow, make a snow angel, walk in water, have an ice cream festival, or get ice water dumped on them.

“This past year has presented us all with unique challenges, but the Special Olympics Ohio athletes and community continue to push forward. We are encouraging people to get creative, have fun with their plunge,” Stewart said.

Officials said the goal was to raise $170,000 for Special Olympics. Fundraising began Feb. 1.

The Cortland Moose has been a sponsor of the popular event for several years at Mosquito Lake.

Participants, who have included local school students, fire departments and community groups, would often dress as vikings, Santa Claus and television characters such as The Flintstones.

MEMORIES

Lori Swogger, secretary for the Cortland Moose, said the event was able to be held in early 2020 before the pandemic began, but she knew this year’s event would be canceled.

“It is always a fun event. Everyone had a great time. Every year was different. It’s sad it can’t be held this year,” Swogger said.

Tiffany Soltis of Champion, whose son Tyler has been in Special Olympics since age 8 and is now 20, said she has taken part in the Polar Plunge in past years to support him.

“I was not aware of the changes this year but understand why things had to change. Had I known, I could have participated in some way. I can remember all the times I ran into the cold water at Mosquito Lake,” Soltis said.

She said her son also takes part in other Special Olympics events such as track, baseball and basketball with a spring event usually held at the Girard High School football stadium. It was unable to take place last year and probably won’t be again this year.

“I heard there is a chance we will do the track meets this year because they can move apart. I think they all want to get outside and compete,” Wayne Tichenor of Cortland said.

He and his son, Gage, 20, have taken part in past Polar Plunges and Gage competes in the track and basketball events at Girard High School.

Bo Greene, who handles the local Special Olympics events for Fairhaven School in Niles, said, “The local Polar Plunge has always been a special event for the students and their families to take part in.”

He said while publicity was lacking on the other ways people could take part, he said each individual could choose what they wanted to do.

Hoyer said in past years, eight Polar Plunges have been held in the area, including at Lake Milton in Mahoning County.

“We have athletes and their families taking part in individual Polar Plunge events. Everyone has had to adapt due to the crazy pandemic,” she said.

RAISING MONEY

Hoyer said the Mosquito Lake event has always been a very popular one.

“What is nice this year is people are very creative in coming up with ways to raise the money. It has been a year of being creative,” she said.

She was taking part by eating ice cream outside in the cold.

Gene Morelli, Special Olympics chairman for the Ohio State Moose Association, said the Moose lodges sponsor and attend three Polar Plunges each year, including Mosquito Lake in Bazetta, Grand Lake St. Marys in Celina and Indian Lake in Lakeview.

“I attend those each year and can see the fun and excitement people have. The one at Mosquito Lake has always been a large event,” he said.

He said the three Polar Plunges in past years have raised between $63,000 and $76,000. The Moose lodges hold an annual conference in Columbus where they donate between $9,000 and $13,000 to Special Olympics.

“We always make sure to donate to Special Olympics as well as what money is raised at the Polar Plunge. This year we will see what more we can do since the polar plunges could not be held,” he said.

Special Olympics Ohio is part of a global inclusion movement using sports, health education and leadership programs to empower people with intellectual disabilities. Special Olympics Ohio provides year-round sports training and competition in 19 different sports for nearly 22,000 children and adults, according to its website.

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