Dressed in an array of wacky costumes, Wilmington residents will receive a little reprieve from this week’s steep frigid temps when they plunge into Kure Beach’s 50-degree water this Saturday in support of individuals with intellectual disabilities. Special Olympics New Hanover County has hosted its annual Polar Plunge for 11 years now and the 5K Run-N-Plunge for three. Boasting live music, raffles and a costume contest, they invite people to dress up and join in the fun on February 21 at their new location across the street from the Kure Beach Pier.
Special Olympics NHC provides year-round sports training, competitive fun and social events—like Camp Shriver summer camp—for over 600 athletes ages 8 and up. They offer 13 different Olympic-based sports: baseball, softball, bowling, bocce, golf, power lifting, soccer, swimming, tennis, and volleyball. The program receives no government funding. It relies solely on private and corporate support, events like the Polar Plunge, and the help of over 300 volunteers to make sure that each of their athletes can participate in the fun at no cost to them or for their families. Special Olympics NHC’s goal is to help bring all persons with intellectual disabilities into the larger society in a way that they are accepted, respected, and given the chance to become useful and productive citizens.
“Eleven years ago, the local coordinator had to do several small fundraisers to keep our local Special Olympics NHC program up and running,” coordinator Tiffany Leslie says. “He barely had enough money to get through half the year, and he knew he needed to do something big to really step it up. He heard about the Polar Plunge that Virginia put on for their Special Olympics program, and drove up to Virginia that year to see what was involved and if it was even possible to do something like that at our local level. After witnessing the plunge, he knew he had to bring it down to North Carolina. In its first year, 300 people showed up at Carolina Beach; ever since then the Polar Plunge has grown.”
Close to 400 runners of all ages lined up to take the starter’s gun at last year’s 5K Run-N-Plunge, and even more are expected to participate and run this year. The 3.1-mile course winds through the streets of Kure Beach and ends by bringing runners to the Atlantic Ocean’s sandy shore.
“On top of the 5K run, we’ve added a 1-mile all-abilities fun walk this year to get more of our athletes to come out and participate,” Leslie says. “The fun walk is a way to include our more physically disabled athletes in on the fun.”
While runners are not required to end their race or walk by jumping into the beach’s icy waves, they are encouraged to cool down by joining fellow plungers taking on the challenge. Awards are given to the top overall 5K male and female runners and to the top runners in several varying age groups. Dogs and other furry friends are allowed and welcome to walk and take the plunge with their owners.
Due to construction at the Carolina Beach Boardwalk, where the event has been held for the last 10 years, the Polar Plunge has been moved to a new location farther south. “We’re looking forward to being down in Kure Beach this year,” Leslie says. “The new location will allow us to have the plunge, run and bands all in one area. The people in Kure Beach have always been really supportive of us and our mission, and we’re really excited to be in their town.”
Rain or shine, runners, walkers and plungers will arrive at Kure Beach to help Special Olympics NHC reach this year’s goal of raising $65,000. “All the money donated goes directly to support our Special Olympics athletes,” Leslie says.
There will be live music and food, a silent auction—including items like spa treatments and golf package—a costume contest, and the bone-chilling Polar Plunge. Performing will be Free Candy, Pantastic Steele, and Chris James throughout the day. Onsite registration for the 5K Run-N-Plunge and 1-mile walk begin one hour before the race.
Anyone who wants to donate to Special Olympics NHC and its athletes or volunteer to help, can visit their website at www.plungenhc.com. Ticket prices for the Polar Plunge and race vary from child to adult. The silent auction kicks off the festivities at 11 a.m., and the plunge begins at 3 p.m.
Kure Beach Pavillion across the street from the Kure Beach Pier.
Adult prices $20-$65
Students with ID prices $20-$45
Children prices $35-20
11 a.m. – Auction tents open
12:30 p.m. – Costume contest
1:30 p.m. – 5K race
1:35 p.m. – 1 Mile Walk
3:05 p.m. – Polar Plunge starts