Though it is spring and the cold and snow have yet to break, the weather has provided a fantastic opportunity for charity, fundraising and volunteering in the community.
On Saturday, March 21, I joined fellow Ithacan staff members, Durst Breneiser and Christian Araos, to participate in the second-annual Ithaca Polar Plunge for Special Olympics New York on the West shore of Cayuga Lake at Taughannock Falls State Park.
We met several eccentric participants, including a man in a skin-colored wrestling costume of World Wrestling Entertainment superstar Randy Orton, a guy wearing a full suit and tie, and other assorted outfits like a penguin costume or hula skirts.
As I looked around, I also noticed there were several teams and groups coming together to donate and participate. I saw members of the volleyball team, the women’s soccer team, both the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams, and even a team from Elmira College that travelled over 40 miles to be there.
And everyone was there for the same reason: to support the Special Olympics.
It made me reflect on the value of charity and volunteering done by varsity athletes, especially as it relates to Ithaca College and specifically my involvement as a student-athlete on the men’s cross-country and track and field teams. As a three-season student-athlete, it’s more difficult to spend weekends volunteering throughout the year given that there is never really an offseason for us. Other than a one-hour run-a-thon on the outdoor track every October, our squad usually doesn’t have time to collectively participate in any fundraisers during the year.
As a result, I have always wanted to take part in volunteering and participating in charitable events more often than I have. Fortunately, the middle and end of March provide a short gap in the competition season, so I seized the opportunity. Just spending 30 seconds inside freezing-cold Cayuga Lake was worth not being able to feel my legs and feet for about 15 minutes afterward because I knew I was doing it to support a good cause.
The Polar Plunge wasn’t even the only charity event going on around this time, as the college hosted Relay for Life to help support the American Cancer Society on March 21. Members of the wrestling team and women’s tennis team were among other student-athlete representatives. One student-athlete, senior tennis player Kelly Fishback, raised over $1,500 for this event.
Though I cannot go back in time and make myself volunteer more, having this experience was refreshing. Running during one of the coldest and snowiest winters in history takes its toll, so doing something different during one of the few open weekends helped clear my head and allowed me to enjoy the plunge with friends I have had during my four years here in Ithaca.
So regardless of your involvements, I encourage everybody to volunteer or raise funds. It’s a rewarding experience, one that can help others and at the same time help people hit the reset button before beginning the march toward summer — and for me and my fellow seniors, graduation.