TAKING THE PLUNGE
Participants brave chilly water on sunny day at North Avenue Beach for good cause
Oompa Loompas, Vikings and Elvis impersonators took over North Avenue Beach in a rare, balmy Chicago Polar Plunge.
But despite the sunny, 40-something degree Sunday, thousands of costumed plungers entered water that was still nearly freezing.
“My feet are freezing! It was cold, but I thought it was going to be a lot worse,” said Beverly resident Tim Delaney, 26, who was dressed as a penguin at his first-ever plunge.
He was among some 4,000 plungers who raised nearly $2 million for the 23rd annual event benefiting Special Olympics Chicago. The group hopes to break the $2 million raised at 2020’s plunge.
The plunge in past years was graced with celebrities Lady Gaga, Vince Vaughn and Jimmy Fallon.
Some of the first plungers this year were the casts of NBC’s “Chicago” franchises P.D., Fire and Med.
It was “Chicago Fire’s” David Eigenberg’s 11th time plunging.
“No, it doesn’t get easier,” he said. “Anything for the Special Olympics. They take care of so many people in the city,” he said after pausing to take photos with fans.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot entered the 36-degree water — but only up to her knees.
She told the crowd: “This is the greatest Special Olympics program in the world — and it started in Chicago.”
The first Special Olympic games were held in 1968 in Chicago, spearheaded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, sister of President John F. Kennedy.
Mayoral candidate Paul Vallas passed out dry towels to plungers for a few minutes. Dressed in black slacks and a red sweatshirt, Vallas was asked why he wasn’t plunging.
“No, I’m just handing out towels,” he said.
Jose Herrera, a coach, dressed as Shrek in honor of an athlete’s daughter who died recently. “Shrek” was her favorite movie, he said.
Herrera said he attended the first-ever polar plunge, when there were only a few hundred people.
“It was nothing like this. It gets bigger every year,” he said.
Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) is vice president of Chicago Polar Plunge. He’s seen the event grow into its current form.
“It’s like you build a city for this. All of these tents housing thousands of plungers, all raising money to support our Special Olympic athletes to create more programs, many of which were in neighborhoods that, last year, didn’t have any programs. It’s very rewarding to be part of it.”
Special Olympics Chicago raises 60% of its annual funding through the plunge, President Ray Baker said.
Donations are accepted through the end of March at chicagopolarplunge.org.