Rapid City residents took the plunge into icy, 36 degree pond water at the annual Polar Plunge last Saturday to raise big bucks for Special Olympics athletes in South Dakota. The theme this year was “Freezin’ for a Reason”. Lieutenant Dave Stratton of the Rapid City Police Department has been involved in the Polar Plunge for three and a half years and at this year’s first major event he has rallied support to the tune of more than $42,000.
In 2006 Officer Stratton received a message from law enforcement personnel in the East River area that the Rapid City Police Department, being the second largest in the State, could be raising a lot of money for the Special Olympics. When asked what motivated him to get involved with this cause, Lt. Stratton replied, “Once you get involved with the kids and the parents, it’s a no-brainer. Something that started out as a sense of duty turned into a passion. If you have ever watched a Special Olympic event, you know that the athletes compete with passion.”
The Torch Run, an international fundraising organization, sponsored by law enforcement personnel around the world has been sponsoring events like the Polar Plunge to help raise money, awareness and community support for Special Olympics for decades. Statewide law enforcement of every persuasion, even SDSU campus police, take part in the run, bearing a torch similar to the one in the Olympic Games, running through their communities and at Special Olympic events. South Dakota has its very own torch fashioned of sleek black and silver metal and is carried by runners from Aberdeen to Rapid City and many towns in between.
The Polar Plunge in Rapid City is quite a production. “I can’t say enough about the way the community has embraced these projects and supported our efforts in South Dakota. We are shooting for a total of $300,000 from all events statewide in 2010”, Lt. Stratton remarked. Organizers of the Polar Plunge, including the Rapid City Police and Fire Departments, Search and Rescue and Water Rescue diving units, as well as several local groups and businesses, all worked together to make this year’s Rapid City Polar Plunge a safe and fun event for everyone.
Individuals raised anywhere from $101 to $5,610 at this year’s Plunge. The largest contribution came from an Elementary School, Rapid Valley Elementary, with $8,700. The organization who raised the largest amount was the Air Force Financial Services Center, calling their group the Purple People Eaters, with a contribution of $2,679.
Another Polar Plunge is scheduled in Spearfish for March 13th. On Good Friday Rapid City’s Law Enforcement Torch Run volunteers will once again sponsor the Cops and Lobsters fund drive. If you want to be served water (not a summons) by a cop, you will have your chance, but don’t forget to tip. Proceeds from your tips will go to the Special Olympics in South Dakota.
Lt. Stratton, still enthused about the recent Torch Run conference he had attended in Foxwood, Connecticut, commented, “Eunice Kennedy Shriver, started SO in the 1960s. Her son, Tim Shriver, spoke at the conference about his mother, saying she had begun another type of civil rights movement when she started the Special Olympics.”
People with special needs were treated in the past with contempt and were unaccepted by, even hidden from, mainstream society, however, in the 1970s, due to the discrimination suffered by countless disabled veterans, the Americans with Disabilities Act was created and has formed the basis for further legislation aimed at helping those with special needs.
The Special Olympics gives kids a sense of pride and accomplishment. They are delighted to participate and anxious to excel in their sport despite what many would consider limitations. These wonderful athletes are to be congratulated for their abilities to overcome tremenous challenges. Because SO does not receive funding from any State or Federal government entity, it is even more crucial that the efforts of devoted volunteers not go unrecognized. It is so, very important to the SO athletes and their families that support for these events continue.
Thanks to Lt. Stratton and others like him, South Dakota kids with special needs can be a part of something uplifting and gratifying. There’s nothing like the smile on the face of a child when a parent sees a blue ribbon brought home from the Special Olympics and says to that little athlete, “Wow, look what you did!” There is no price that can be put on that!