Though their backyard was covered in snow, members of the Casey family wore their bathing suits on Sunday for the 2021 Polar Bear Plunge.
Jill Casey, followed by her children and her husband, climbed up the stairs of the family playground before taking the slide down into a pit of slush and mud. Then after jumping in a 42-degree kiddie pool, she ran into the hot tub to warm back up.
With that display, the Caseys raised $3,016 for Special Olympics Delaware, over half of the Christina School District’s total of $5,207. Casey, principal of Christina’s REACH program for children with special needs, understands firsthand the impact Special Olympics has. The program enables 75 percent of the children in the REACH program to participate in sports at no cost.
“In a normal year, we have Special Olympic events throughout the year, and our students don’t have to pay anything to participate,” said Casey. “We have soccer, basketball, bowling and track and field, some students also participate in swimming.”
Casey created the first Christina plunge team at REACH in 2014. When former REACH assistant principal Rebecca Ryan moved to Christina Early Education Center, she began a team there, creating the CEEC and REACH combined fundraising group.
Special Olympics Delaware gets nearly 45 percent of its revenue from the Polar Bear Plunge, which is now in its 30th year. Normally, the fundraiser involves thousands of people running into the chilly Atlantic Ocean in Rehoboth Beach, but that wasn’t possible this year due to the pandemic.
The organization adapted the event by enabling participants to plunge from home, only requiring them to film it as proof they braved the cold. Some people participated by simply pouring a bucket of water on their head; others, like the Casey’s, had a more elaborate set-up, jumping into lakes or other bodies of water.
“It’s not how you plunge,” said Jon Buzby, director of unified champion schools for Special Olympics Delaware. “It’s who you plunge for.”
Buzby said the fundraiser had around 60 percent of last year’s participation. However, reduced costs from not holding the in-person event means the donations they are receiving have a significant impact.
Statewide, 2,250 people raised $700,000, down from $1 million last year.
However, the Casey’s bucked the statewide trend, raising more than twice their previous year’s total.
After everyone completed their run across the backyard and made their way inside, the Casey family discovered to their horror that an essential piece of the fundraiser, the video, failed. So they took off their robes, put on their bathing suits, and ran out into the cold a second time.
Despite it being the second trip out, the youngest member of the family, 12-year-old Carson, once again belly-flopped into the frigid pool. Carson has plunged annually since he was 4 years old. After his second run, he stuck his tongue out for snowflakes as he walked back into the house.
“It was colder,” Jill Casey, when asked about how her 12th plunge compared to previous years. “But it was shorter.”