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Ithaca College athletes dive into Special Olympics support

The+Polar+Plunge%2C+an+annual+event+that+fundraises+for+Special+Olympic+New+York%2C+was+hosted+on+March+23+by+the+Student-Athlete+Advisory+Council.+Volunteers+that+raised+over+%2425+line+up+to+take+the+plunge+in+freezing+conditions.
Elijah Cedeño
The Polar Plunge, an annual event that fundraises for Special Olympic New York, was hosted on March 23 by the Student-Athlete Advisory Council. Volunteers that raised over $25 line up to take the plunge in freezing conditions.

The Ithaca College Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) organized a team for the annual Polar Plunge on March 23, an event aimed at raising money and awareness for athletes competing in the Special Olympics.

This was the 11th annual Polar Plunge held in Ithaca and stands as the largest fundraising event for Special Olympics New York. It is a unique opportunity for individuals, organizations, schools and businesses to support Special Olympics New York athletes by jumping into frigid bodies of water across New York state.

The Polar Plunge occurred amid a snow storm in Ithaca, but despite the snowy conditions at Taughannock Falls State Park, many athletes and community members showed up to plunge and cheer on their fellow bombers.

This year, SAAC created three subcommittees — mental health and wellness, Bombers supporting Bombers and community outreach. Senior Kiley Sullivan, a midfielder on the Ithaca College field hockey team, said she spearheaded the community outreach committee and Polar Plunge initiative.

Kaitlyn Wahila, field hockey head coach and SAAC adviser, noted the way that Sullivan has led this committee with an emphasis on going into the community and doing work on the ground to make a real impact.

“The goal with our community outreach this year has not been to ask our student-athletes to just donate to specific organizations, but it’s really been to find ways where we can get out into the community and do some good,” Wahila said.

Sullivan said she wanted this year’s plunge to expand beyond SAAC to grow bonds between all athletes and the community.

“I wanted to take community service to another level,” Sullivan said.  “Because in previous years we kind of just had plunge open to SAAC members, and I kinda wanted to open it up to other athletes and get them to kind of see a little bit more of what SAAC is about, do something good for the community and interact with other student athletes that you may not be familiar with.”

This emphasis on community impact was echoed by junior Co-Chair Josh Miles, who spoke of the need for athletes to use the platform they have to help others throughout the sport season and beyond.

Miles, a member of the Ithaca College football team, said he was able to empower his teammates to take the plunge and raise awareness for this cause as he brought nearly 30 athletes with him to the event.

“A lot of these sports teams wouldn’t be here without the fundraising and the support that the community does, and I think it’s only fair that we give back to the community,” Miles said. “As athletes, we have such a large platform to influence, especially the younger generation, and those around us in the community and I think anytime that we have some spare time to go down and just help out, it’s really impactful and important to do so.”

Sullivan and Wahila decided that they would not make attendance at the Polar Plunge mandatory for student-athletes, but instead focus their strategy and messaging on the importance of giving back to inspire athletes to make the plunge.

“We made sure that everybody has been aware of it, but [Sullivan] also didn’t pressure it and decided not to make it mandatory because we were hoping that people would just naturally then be a little bit more inclined to be involved and have the student athletes who are genuinely interested in the plunge and the cause,” Wahila said.

In order to partake in the Polar Plunge, participants must raise a minimum of $25. One strategy that SAAC implemented to raise money was the use of Instagram and social media to spread the word.

“Something that we did is we created an Instagram donation bingo card for our athletes to just post on their story and gain support,” Miles said. “Once people see the card and you can get that ball rolling, you end up getting a lot more than $25 out of it.”

While Ithaca College SAAC wound up raising a total of $4,170, Sullivan said she believes it is more about showing up for people than the money.

“For me, it’s not necessarily about getting as much money raised as possible, it’s the effort that you put into showing up,” Sullivan said. “I think it’s great that there’s that $25 minimum, so that people are giving something, but I’ve just been telling people like whatever you can give, if it’s $25 that’s totally fine, because I’d rather people show up for a good cause.”

Wahila said she sees events like this one as an opportunity for student-athletes to recognize the impact they can make off the field.

“It’s important that our student-athletes are involved in more than just their sport because they are more than just players on the field, in the pool or on the court,” Wahila said. “I think being involved in the Ithaca community allows them the opportunity to continue to have great experiences and make an impact.”

Senior Gillian Coffey was among those in the crowd that did not take the plunge but wanted to show up and support the cause. Coffey said the event is fulfilling for her.

“I go every year with my friends and we love it,” Coffey said. “It’s a ton of fun and it’s nice to support a local organization while we’re all going to school here.”

This year, the Polar Plunge occurred amid a snow storm in Ithaca, but despite the snowy conditions at Taughannock Falls State Park, many athletes and community members showed up to plunge and cheer on their fellow bombers.

Devin Sylvia, a sophomore on the Ithaca College women’s soccer team and member of the SAAC executive board, took the plunge with her teammates and believes that the benefits of the day outweigh the negative weather.

“I had so much fun doing the plunge and have had the privilege of doing it both this year and last year where the weather has been crazy both times, but it honestly makes for a good story and adds to the excitement of the day,” Sylvia said. “The plunge in itself is a great way for everyone to bond together and at the end of the day, we get to contribute to a great cause, which weighs out all the negatives of the weather.”

In fact, Miles said he believes that the snowy conditions contributed to a really exciting environment.

“Especially when it is extra cold, there is an anticipation as you’re waiting to jump in the water  and it is a lot of fun,” Miles said.

Reflecting on her time working on this event, Sullivan is hopeful that Polar Plunge and other community engagement events will continue to grow the connection between student-athletes, the campus community and the Ithaca community.

“I’m hopeful you know; it’s cool because you go to Polar Plunge and there’s so many different teams there and people from different backgrounds, and I’m just hoping that people will keep showing up and realize this is really cool and be glad that they did that,” Sullivan said.

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