In 1988, Georgeann Kulton started as a coach with the Special Olympics in Illinois helping athletes push their boundaries and change society's perceptions of children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
More than 25 years later, Kulton now is with Special Olympics Colorado as Southeast Area Manager trying to build the state's awareness and funding. In doing so, she brought one of the Special Olympics' main events from Illinois with her - the Polar Plunge.
The plunge is an event started by the non-profit organization where community members can raise money for the Special Olympics to plunge into the water along with fellow Special Olympics athletes for a unique experience. This will be the fifth year the plunge has been in Colorado Springs and is slated for 1 p.m. Feb. 1st at Prospect Lake in Colorado Springs.
"It's not a run, it's not a bike ride, it's a plunge. It's something different," Kulton said. "As far as what the funds do, it's pretty much the sky's the limit. We've got over 13,000 athletes in Colorado and it helps provide quality training and quality competition. Equipment, training facilities, facilities where we have our competitions, transportation, just the entire package of a non-profit sports organization."
Colorado Springs currently is one of four Polar Plunge sites across the state and attracts about 2,500 total plungers, including sheriff's offices, schools and several other organizations. Through just the first four years, the event has helped raise several hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Not only will dozens of teams from organizations around the area line up to plunge into the water, the Colorado Springs Sky Sox made it a priority to get as many members out to the lake this year. After participating last year for the first time, Sky Sox President and General Manager Tony Ensor enjoyed helping out the great organization so much, he spread the word to his staff.
"The Polar Plunge is an extraordinary event and the Sky Sox are excited to be participating in the event to help raise awareness for Special Olympics," Ensor said. "The athletes that participate in Special Olympics have incredible passion for what they do. We are proud to join the community in showing our support for Special Olympics by taking the Plunge into the very icy waters of Prospect Lake."
Amy Turner, Special Olympics Colorado's vice president of marketing, communications and corporate partnerships, said the Springs' site is about to go through another growth stage. The main goal is to be able to get Colorado's plunges in the same boat as some states who raise more than a million dollars a year.
"There's a number of states that have been doing this for 20-plus years and are raising over 3 million dollars," Turner said. "Our goal is to be in that situation where we're doing 10 to 15 sites around the state and raising, collectively around the state, that much money."
Not only do Polar Plunges raise money for all sorts of resources, the plunge also is about challenging yourself and coming together as a family, Turner said.
"(Georgeann and I) both plunged and there is really a sense of achievement of overcoming that initial sort of anxiety of what it's going to be like," Turner said. "It's very much like our athletes as they build their sports skills and they succeed and they do so well in their sports environment and leadership training. It's a very similar experience of success once you've tried it."