Special Olympics Manitoba is hoping to have Portage la Prairie and the surrounding area #FreezinForAReason this weekend.

On Saturday, January 20, the cold and courageous will take the 2024 Polar Plunge at Stride Place in Portage, and registration is still open to individuals, businesses and other organizations looking to team-build with a purpose. All monies raised will support Special Olympics athletes in the province.

“All proceeds from the Polar Plunge will facilitate year-round recreational, training and competitive opportunities for our athletes,” says Melissa Suggitt, Marketing Manager with Special Olympics Manitoba. “This includes everything from weekly programs and the facilities and equipment needed to run them, to large-scale competitions like our Provincial Games, to supporting athletes on our provincial team heading to the National Games.”

Adell Gauthier, Director of Fund Development for Special Olympics Manitoba, is hopeful of reaching a fundraising target of $14,000 through the Polar Plunge.

“It’s been quite a few years since we had this event in Portage,” she points out, adding, “The fundraising goal is similar to our previous total.”

Manitoba Law Enforcement Torch Run local Chair Kristen Tompsett and a team of colleagues from various Manitoba law enforcement agencies organize the Polar Plunge, Suggitt explains, and all those interested in participating in or making a donation through the event can do so at plungemanitoba.com.

Involvement, either as a plunger or donor, can be transformative for Manitoba’s Special Olympics athletes.

“Our athletes face social and economic barriers in their day-to-day lives,” says Suggitt. “Our hope is that we can shine a light on the skills, attributes and accomplishments of individuals with an intellectual disability and provide accessible sport opportunities by removing these barriers.”

She adds that, in addition to the physical benefits of sports, athletes find a sense of belonging, of community, with their Special Olympics teammates, and it all combines to produce an increase in self esteem.

The organization’s Central region, which includes Portage la Prairie, currently offers 10 programs for more than 100 athletes – each of whom stands to benefit from the broader community’s enthusiasm for the Polar Plunge and other events. Province-wide, more than 100 programs are provided, including competitive opportunities in 18 official sports. There’s also youth-specific and school programming, as well as training in Athlete Leadership. Suggitt is hopeful Special Olympics Manitoba can expand even more.

“We’re dedicated to enriching the lives of Manitobans with an intellectual disability through sport,” she says. “Our vision is that sport will open hearts and minds towards people with an intellectual disability and create more inclusive communities.

“Sport has the power to transform lives.”

Prospective Polar Plunge participants and donors can visit plungemanitoba.com for more information, and donors can also sponsor local Portage teams. Special Olympics Manitoba can be reached by calling 1-888-333-9179 or emailing som@specialolympics.mb.ca.