A big success at this year’s “Polar Plunge” as the fundraiser brings in $100,000 for Special Olympics of Southern California. Story by Judi Bowers of the Big Bear Grizzly.
Freezin’ for good reason – $100,000 of them
Deputy Jim Winjhamer is still in awe. He still can’t believe the turnout in numbers and money for the second annual Polar Plunge to benefit Special Olympics Southern California. The fundraiser hit the $100,000 mark for Special Olympics.
The plunge March 9 at Swim Beach truly was polar, with several inches of fresh snow covering the sand at Swim Beach. The water temperature was warmer than the air temperature, but that didn’t dampen anyone’s spirit, or their spirit of giving.
Last year Big Bear set a fundraising record earning more than $23,000, and in 2013 set a record before a single person hit the icy waters of Big Bear Lake. Winjhammer said the goal was to double the 2012 take. He did that and then some.
By plunge time March 9, the count was just shy of $40,000 and by the time plungers were drying off, it was above $70,000. The almost final count came in March 11, at $90,000, hitting $100,000 by March 12, with more than expected. “I’m floored,” Winjhamer said. “It’s amazing.”
In addition to raisin money to benefit the Special Olympic athletes in the Inland Empire, the event also raised awareness. Winjhamer said there are nine Special Olympic athletes in Big Bear and after the event, there are more who want to sign their kids up. He also received inquires from a number of people on how to volunteer as a coach.
In the Inland Empire, Special Olympic athletes compete in a bowling tournament in Big Bear in the fall as well as various other games held in areas such as Murrietta and Orange County. Winjhamer said hopes are to host a track and field event in Big Bear in the spring. The funds make it possible for athletes to have access to sporting events all year long, Winjhamer said.
Winjhamer has a son who is a Special Olympic athlete, which drives his passion. Asked what he thinks drives others who participated and raised so much money, Winjhamer said the Big Bear community is so giving. When asked for help with the Special Olympics, people were eager to participate, he said. “This is a very giving community,” Winjhamer said. “People are just amazing,” something he kept repeating.
Will Rahill, a local real estate agent, arrived at the Polar Plunge dressed in fur. he was Pimpin’ for a Special O, Rahill said. He decided the morning of the event to take part and donated $100 to the cause.
Angel Martinez of Hesperia took part for the family. His aunt, who recently passed away, from Down Syndrome. Her favorite food was hot dogs, so Martinez dressed in his aunt’s Halloween costume as Hot Diggity Dog and jumped into Big Bear Lake in her honor.
San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon attended the event, helping Amber, a Special Olympic athlete, light the torch to signal the start of the games. The torch arrived via special delivery from the Sheriff’s Drive Team. Two divers jumped simultaneously from a helicopter hovering over the lake and delivered the torch to McMahon and Amber.
Close to 300 people took the plunge. There were numerous law enforcement teams, fire firefighters, teams from Snow Summit, the Big Bear City Community Services District, the Big Bear Area Regional Wastewater Agency, Bear Valley Unified School District and more. The cohesiveness was all about coming together for one cause, Winjhamer said.
“Wasn’t that amazing?” he said with a smile that answers his own question.