Upcoming Polar Plunge at Folsom Lake fuels dreams, inclusion by supporting the Special Olympics

Last year's Sacramento Polar Plunge. Courtesy photo

The 2023 Greater Sacramento Polar Plunge & 5K Trail Run goes down on March 11 at Browns Ravine

It might look like a madcap party on the beach, but the Polar Plunge is actually about helping adults and children with intellectual disabilities feel active, fit, purpose-driven and accepted. The Special Olympics of Northern California has worked towards that vision of belonging for decades now. On March 11, the nonprofit invites locals to jump in on its mission – and do that by taking a costumed jumped into the wintery waters of Folsom Lake.

Anyone willing to raise $125 or more can be part of the raucous morning, which includes games, entertainment and refreshments. Those braving the lake will also earn a Polar Plunge long-sleeve shirt. The costume theme of the aquatic splash-down is super heroes.

This year’s go-around also includes a first-ever 5K trail run where Sacramentans can raise $45 or more by lacing up their shoes for a cause. Those who want to raise maximum funds can participate in both the polar plunge and the 5K.   

Proceeds from the action go directly to fund year-round Special Olympics programs. The organization defines its goal as using sports “to jumpstart change and spark joy” for those with disabilities, as well as getting them “more connected to the community.” It’s an organization that emphasizes direction, inclusion, solidarity, respect and dignity.

And health.

Most recently, SONC partnered with William Jessup University in Rocklin for a six-week fitness season for its athletes. It has also directed fitness activities and disability awareness nights with major sports teams that include the Oakland Athletics and San Jose Sharks. According to SONC team members, there’s still a long way to go when it comes to awareness around people who are unique: The group cites a compilation of studies suggesting 60% of students with intellectual disabilities are bullied, compared to 20% of general education students. The findings also indicate that 33% of Americans currently feel that individuals with intellectual disabilities should be limited to special schools and special work places because including them in mainstream environments could have “negative outcomes.”

“If you think about it, 33% is basically a third of people,” observed SONC development associate Sheena Kawakami. “That’s a huge part of our population who think that. It’s a shock, but I would say part of our mission is pushing back against that 33%.”

In addition to raising awareness in schools, Special Olympics of Northern California is advocating on the healthcare front. In one study, 56% of medical students in the U.S. reported that graduates were “not competent” to treat people with intellectual disabilities. That’s alarming when cross-examined with the fact those with intellectual disabilities are twice as likely to be obese, while many experience health threats and challenges that sometimes go undetected.

“Physical fitness starts on the field, but whole-body health and wellbeing carries us through everyday life. That’s why we offer a variety of free screenings and education (both virtual and in-person) for athletes to improve their overall well-being and performance,” SONC wrote in its most-recent annual report. “In 2022, our partnerships with Stanford University, John Muir Health, University of the Pacific and others provided opportunities for medical students and health professionals to learn firsthand from our athletes about how to best serve patients of all abilities.”

Registration and more information about the Polar Plunge and 5K run is available at www.PlungeCA.com.

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