What’s your best memory from playing a sport? Maybe you play basketball, and as the time ran down on the clock, you scored the game-winning three-pointer. Maybe you swim, and when you come up for air at the end of a race, you realize you just broke a school record. And maybe your best memory from a sport is the feeling of community and joy in shared effort that comes from competing on a team. In these memories, the simple act of competing in a sport becomes something else. It becomes a way for you to express yourself, giving additional purpose to the training you do.
The Maryland Special Olympics provides an opportunity for athletes from across the state to create these memories and transform what their competition means to them. The organization offers a wide range of sports, from soccer to snowshoeing to over 8,000 Maryland athletes. Each time they compete, they have the chance to excel and build on the skills they’ve developed in practice. Just like you, sports for them become a part of their identity and expression, an integral part of who they are.
On March 24th, I’ll be going down to Sandy Point State Park with a group of Loyola students to do our third Polar Bear Plunge in order to raise money for the Maryland Special Olympics. Every year, we jump into freezing cold water to raise funds for the event. It’s cold, painfully cold, but by the end, it’s clearly worth doing.
It’s our third year of doing the Plunge, but it’ll be my fourth time overall. The first time I did it was in eighth grade. When the idea was introduced to my class, I thought it was crazy. What sane person would want to jump into freezing water in the middle of winter? But right after it was announced, the school had one of the athletes speak about his experience at an assembly. When he got behind the podium, his message was exactly the question I put forward in the first paragraph? He asked us what sports meant to us, and told us what competition meant to him. He told us about his sailing, the people he’d met, the skills he’d developed, and the memories he created. At that moment, I realized why so many people did the Polar Bear Plunge. Not because everyone else was doing it, but because there was a recognition of how important these opportunities were to the SOMD athletes.
On the day of my first Plunge, I was still nervous. I wasn’t looking forward to jumping in ice-cold water. But I was ready. Standing on the beach, I got a sense of how excited everybody was. All the other students were ready to run into the water, and when the horn sounded, we did exactly that. The most surprising thing about diving into the water was how quickly I got the breath knocked out of me. The sudden rush of cold didn’t feel like the chilled air on the beach, but instead like my body was submerged into solid ice. But when I got out of the water, I wasn’t by myself anymore. I was part of a team.
After I did it the first time, I couldn’t wait for the next. But during my first year at Loyola, I realized we didn’t have a team to do it. I was disappointed, but I was resolved to do it next year. So in January of my sophomore year, I took the bus down to Sandy Point State Park with 30 other Loyola students to Plunge again. As expected, the water was still freezing cold. And just like my first time, seeing the rest of my team there made the whole experience worth it. And while shivering from the freezing cold, I smiled.
For our third year of the Plunge, we’re aiming to break all of our previous records. We want to have more people do it and to raise a record amount of money. But most importantly, I want to share why I plunge with as many people as possible. The rush of cold and the teamwork is all a great part of it, but the most important part is what we help others do. When the day is over, the athletes of the Special Olympics Maryland are still practicing. They’re still preparing for their sports in the summer. And creating those opportunities for competition is why I plunge.