‘Freezin’ for a Reason’ at Acrisure Stadium

Hannah Peters | Staff Writer | Duquesne freshmen Emma Rowe (left), Ashley Coretti (center left), Mia White (center right) and Aubree Yocum (right) 'plunged' into the icy waters outside Acrisure Stadium twice to benefit Special Olympics athletes in the Three Rivers area.

Hannah Peters | Staff Writer

Outside of Acrisure Stadium on the brisk and snowy morning of Feb. 24, a crowd gathered in front of a stage centered around three above-ground pools. The parking lot was full of tailgaters, and people in swimwear were forming a line while Randy Baumann from DVE Morning Show and iHeartRadio was on stage getting ready to announce the record-breaking news.

“This year with the help of law enforcement, our athletes, our corporate partners and each of you here today, I am pleased to announce … It’s pretty unbelievable … We have broken a record this year at the Pittsburgh Polar Plunge,” said Baumann over the speakers. “I am unbelievably happy and excited to relay to you that for the first time ever, the Pittsburgh Polar Plunge has raised over $1 million.”

True to their catchphrase, “Freezin’ for a Reason,” the Polar Plunge is an annual fundraising event for the Special Olympics where ‘plungers’ fundraise money and jump into chilly waters to show their support.

With the total raised amount of $1.1 million, the Special Olympics will be able to support 350 athletes in the Three Rivers region for an entire year. Offering 24 sports, the organization provides athletes with access to training, competitions (including transportation), health screenings and leadership training free of charge.

Setting a record for Special Olympics Pennsylvania, this year’s funds surpassed all expectations as they raised over $300,000 more than the year prior and had an original goal of $750,000. The event also saw the most participants in Pittsburgh Polar Plunge history — over 4,000 plungers showed up on Saturday.

Plungers were able to register either as a team or an individual and were required to pay a general registration fee of $50 to participate but were encouraged to fundraise further. Among the many generous and courageous plungers, Duquesne was represented in the form of four freshmen who ended up plunging twice, once for the cause and a second time for fun.

“It was freezing, but doing it together made it worth it — and supporting the Special Olympics obviously,” said Duquesne student Mia White.

Also in attendance were several costumed individuals including Steelman, Pope Yinzer, Johnny the Snowman, Steeler Jesus and PGH Steely. Bringing his son to plunge with him, the man behind PGH Steely, Garret Fleet, told The Duke that supporting the athletes and their families was the reason he and the others decided to plunge.

“We’re trying to support people who can’t do it for themselves. [We are] just trying to do something good,” Fleet said. “[Special Olympics athletes] should have the same opportunities as everybody else.”

The first to plunge into the freezing waters and a major player in making the whole event possible was the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. As partners for the event, law enforcement has historically held close ties with the Special Olympics on a national scale since they founded the Law Enforcement Torch Run in 1981.

Former Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert was credited with having the vision for starting the Polar Plunge in Pittsburgh 14 years ago. Representatives from several counties showed up for support, with Chief Matthew Porter of Port Authority Police recognized as the top individual fundraiser for this year’s event, raising over $26,000.

Andrew Fee, Executive Director of Special Olympics Pennsylvania’s Three Rivers Region, said that law enforcement is a major reason for the success of the Pittsburgh Polar Plunge.

“Law enforcement has been the most important part,” Fee said. “Law enforcement and our athletes really work hard to get a lot of people here to support.”

Events like these also allow the community to interact with those who serve them. Not only was law enforcement a major presence, but the North Huntingdon EMS/Rescue and Irwin EMS donated their services by staying in the pools and assisting plungers for the entire event.

With an event that now includes a live DJ, tailgating, face painting, games, a duck raffle, food, a selfie station and the University of Pittsburgh cheer and dance squad, Fee explained that a lot goes on behind the scenes. More than 200 volunteers showed up on Saturday to help run the event.

“It takes months and months of planning, a lot of volunteers, law enforcement, staff time … It’s our biggest event of the year,” Fee said.

Volunteer and mom to a Special Olympic athlete, Terri Jagielski, has remained actively involved with Special Olympics, working as a coach for 28 years in addition to being a managing member of the Allegheny County team. She said that the athletes themselves are what inspire her to be involved.

“It’s the most rewarding thing I have ever been a part of,” Jagielski said. “My job as a coach is to coach or to teach. But they taught me way more than I could ever teach them. They are the most loyal, the most loving, the most thankful people you could ever, ever, ever meet.”

Her son, Chris Jagielski, was an athlete for 25 years, as a golf competitor. Through the Special Olympics, he had the chance to compete at universities around the country and even traveled to China for the 2007 World Summer Games in Shanghai.

“Special Olympics has opened doors to so many new and better opportunities,” Chris Jagielski said. “I’ve got to meet friends from all over.”

Helping to make Special Olympics opportunities possible, the Polar Plunge serves not only as a means to fundraise but to raise awareness and bring the community together for a special cause.

“I think it’s a crazy thing; it’s very unique,” Fee said. “ It’s like all of us — we’re all unique, we all have unique abilities and that’s what we try to highlight here at Special Olympics. It’s just a crazy Pittsburgh thing to do.”