Polar Plunge 2024: Sheriff’s Department Asking You to Dip Into Your Pockets for Special Olympics

Polar Plungers from the Will County Sheriff's Department pose for a picture during a past event.(Photo courtesy of Deputy Victoria Janovyak)
Polar Plungers from the Will County Sheriff's Department pose for a picture during a past event. (Photo courtesy of Deputy Victoria Janovyak)

By Stephanie Irvine

Fundraising is underway for the Will County Sheriff’s Department’s Polar Plunge team, who will be taking the plunge in an effort to raise funds and awareness for the Illinois Special Olympics.

The local Law Enforcement Torch Run Polar Plunge event, which has teams from many local organizations and businesses, will take place on March 9 at the Braidwood Recreation Club, with plunging beginning in waves at noon.

The Polar Plunge is one of several Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) fundraising events for the Illinois Special Olympics. According to their website, the Illinois Special Olympics supports 21,000 traditional athletes with intellectual disabilities and 9,000 Young Athletes across the state. Polar Plunge events take place at 24 locations throughout the state during the months of February and March.

The LETR fundraising events include the Torch Run itself, the Dunkin’ Cop on a Rooftop, Tip a Cop, the Polar Plunge, Truck Convoys, and Pull-a-Plane events. Consistently, the Will County Sheriff’s department has raised $30,000 for the Special Olympics through the collective fundraising efforts of the sale of LETR T-shirts, the Dunkin’ Cop on a Rooftop, and the Polar Plunge.

Last year, Deputy Victoria Janovyak, who organizes the event, said the Will County Sheriff’s Department team raised about $13,000. She hopes the team can raise $15,000 for this year’s Polar Plunge.

At the time of publication, the Will County Sheriff’s team has raised nearly $9,000. The team is in second place for the amount of funds raised for this year’s Polar Plunge event in Braidwood.

When Janovyak first joined the Will County Sheriff’s Department about 8 years ago, Deputy Steve Kirsch (Ret.) had been in charge of organizing the Polar Plunge. Janovyak explained that Kirsch had been inspired to participate, as his daughter is a Special Olympics athlete.

Kirsch asked Janovyak to participate, who did, also encouraging her then-boyfriend, Deputy Michael Janovyak, to join her.

Janovyak had been involved with LETR events since she was a police cadet in high school. When Kirsch asked her to take over organizing the Polar Plunge event after his retirement, she did so without hesitation and welcomed the opportunity.

“It’s my favorite Special Olympics activity to do. I love it. It’s the craziest one because it’s usually cold,” Janovyak said.

Though the forecast for this year’s Polar Plunge doesn’t look too arctic, that hasn’t always been the case.

“The most brutal was three years ago. It was so cold. It felt like -20. Last year, I felt like it was a heat wave. It wasn’t that bad,” Janovyak said.

The event draws a crowd, with many Special Olympics athletes and their families attending.

“Athletes come out; families come out; they’re all cheering you on.” Janovyak said. “You’re like a rockstar going out to do this. It’s cool to be a part of raising money.”

Of the day’s event, Janovyak said it’s much more than just a quick dip in the water at noon. Many come out prior to the event to spend some fun time together. They’re usually wrapped up by 1 p.m.

“We’ve been so successful at these events that we can actively get deputies to come out to plunge and volunteer,” Janovyak said.

“They get their whole family involved, they all come out. Grill burgers and dogs, and the kids bundle up and play. We have fun and hang out. And we all plunge together, so it’s a family event.”

Each year, the team has grown. This year’s team has 34 participants from the Will County Sheriff’s Department, the Coroner’s office, and the Highway division, along with their family members, including spouses and children.

As to why Janovyak does the events, she said simply: “The reason I do it is that it makes people happy.”

Donations can be made online for the Will County Sheriff’s Department’s Polar Plunge. Visit https://support.soill.org/team/548340 to donate.

Stephanie Irvine is a freelance reporter.

Polar Plungers from the Will County Sheriff’s Department pose for a picture during a past event.
(Photo courtesy of Deputy Victoria Janovyak)

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