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River plunge raises money for Special Olympics

By Trever Sheets, Point Park News Service:

Participants dive in at the 2012 Polar Bear Plunge at the Point, Downtown. Photo: Kraig Makohus
Participants dive in at the 2012 Polar Bear Plunge at the Point, Downtown. Photo: Kraig Makohus

While plunging into a frigid pool of water 24 times in 24 hours, Kelly Kumanchik dealt with the pain. She knew she was making a difference in the lives of children. She will plunge again on Dec. 14.

Since the Polar Bear Plunge’s inception in 2010, Pittsburgh Police Commander Scott Schubert has been plunging to raise money for the Special Olympic athletes who inspired him.

One of the many beneficiaries of the funds raised for the Special Olympics, Chris Jagielski will be plunging for the fourth year in a row.

These brave souls are amongst the thousands of people who will participate in the Pittsburgh Polar Plunge at 1 p.m., Dec. 14 along Art Rooney Avenue in the North Shore. The event will be hosted by Steelers broadcasters Tunch Illkin and Craig Wolfley.

Presented by the Law Enforcement for Special Olympics of Pennsylvania, the event encourages people in various attire to plunge into the Allegheny River near Heinz Field. All participants donate $50 to the cause. Since its inception, the event has raised $750,000.

Participants can also take the plunge in a cold pool of water 24 times in 24 hours near the Hard Rock Cafe in Station Square from noon on Dec. 13 until noon on Dec. 14.

“It is a pleasure for us to do this for these amazing kids; I haven’t met an athlete who isn’t absolutely amazing,” said Kumanchik.

She is also involved in the “Battle of the Badges” in which various law enforcement groups who helped to organize the event compete against each other to see who can raise the most money.

The winning team receives a trophy with the team’s names inscribed. The team keeps the trophy at its station for the year.

The Zone 6 police station won the trophy the last three years, raising around $26,000.

“The real winners here are the athletes. No matter who wins the trophy, they are helping us become better people in life,” said Schubert, who leads the station.

He said the participation increased significantly since the event’s inception, “especially within law enforcement.”

“I met a young female athlete my first year, and she described to me how much Special Olympics has impacted her life,” he said. “Everything we do is for the athletes to help them not just grow as athletes, but as people.”

One of those athletes, Jagielski has been participating in the Special Olympics for 18 years. He participates in golf as well as basketball and bowling.

“People for a while didn’t think that we … train for the Special Olympics [or that it] went on all the time,” Jagielski said. “They thought it only happened a couple of times a year, but that has changed in the last couple of years.”

Jagielski said that he has been involved since the event began and has met many celebrities, including former Steelers.

“We have an athlete right now, who I think is 70 [years old], so there is no age limit, and I plan on continuing to participate,” Jagielski said.

Kraig Makohus, the senior director of Development and Strategic Partnerships for Special Olympics Pennsylvania, said it hopes to surpass the $1 million mark, and all of the activities planned should help them to reach that mark.

“We don’t want this to be an event where people just come down, jump in the river and go home. We want it to be a family event,” said Makohus.

The Plunge Town event includes games for children, free food, live music, a costume contest and the 2013 Chili Cook-Off.

In addition, people can participate in the Steel City Truck Pull Competition where groups of five people can attempt to pull an 18-wheeler. They can also get started the night before the plunge with the Friday Night Splash.

“This is a unique party that is different from a normal black tie reception,” Makohus said. “We wanted more of a mixer or party feel to appeal to the younger people in the city. There will be an open bar and food as well as a video presentation about one of our athletes.”

For those who do not want to participate in the Plunge, but still want to support the Special Olympics, there is the “Too Chicken To Plunge” event. Participants will receive a specialty T-shirt to mark their participation.

More information on how to donate and register can be found on the Pittsburgh Polar Bear Plunge website.

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