Taking the Plunge for a Cause

Ninth Edition of Polar Bear Plunge Benefits Athletes with Mental Disabilities

  • The Law Enforcement Torch Run Organization and Special Olympics Quebec held their annual Polar Bear Plunge on Feb.13, 2016. Photo Andrej Ivanov

  • The event raised $30,000 for Special Olympic athletes. Photo Andrej Ivanov

Participants made their way to the ledge of the pool. Awaiting the signal to jump, their bodies shivered and their eyes widened at the sight of the icy cold water.

“You go through several steps in your mind,” said police officer Jean-Daniel Maltais. “First of all, we know it’s -30 C outside. We end up watching others jump before us and we’re freezing our butts off. Then, you end up asking yourself, ‘What am I doing here?’”

It comes as no surprise that many Montrealers were willing to jump into an outdoor pool of freezing cold water on one of the coldest days of the year.

This past Saturday, the Law Enforcement Torch Run organization, in collaboration with Special Olympics Quebec, held their ninth annual Polar Bear Plunge to raise money for Special Olympic athletes with intellectual disabilities at the Verdun Auditorium.

Of the 200 participants, mostly parents and officers, an estimated 150 braved the cold and took the plunge. The event turned out to be not only physically challenging, but also mentally demanding.

“It all happens really fast,” said Maltais’s colleague, Marc-André Bienvenue. “Before you know it, you’re up next, on the edge of the pool and then you’re in the water. Overall, it was a fun experience.”

The LETR, a grassroots organization comprising of over 85,000 law enforcement officers worldwide, was faced with an unusual challenge this year. Previous editions of the event took place in the frigid. St. Lawrence River, but due to the relatively mild winter conditions, organizers were forced to think outside the box. The LETR and Special Olympics Quebec found willing collaborators, as the City of Verdun volunteered to host the event in the Verdun Auditorium.

“It’s a great setup in Verdun,” said SOQ president Daniel Granger. “The facilities and accommodations are good. If something happens, there’s an ambulance nearby so we’re well organized.”

The harsh weather conditions experienced this weekend were quite unexpected, but didn’t stop many individuals from leaving the comfort of their warm homes to come out and support an important cause.

Almost a decade ago, the LETR was holding its annual conference to discuss different fundraising strategies and ideas. According to Granger, the first few editions of the Polar Bear Ice Plunge took place in Nevada and California, even though they have some of the warmest climates in the United States.

“We said that we are the real polar bears. This is our activity,” a competitive Granger said.

Because this was clearly an activity of Canadian calibre, the SOQ and LETR set out to organize the coldest version of the Polar Bear Plunge challenge possible. To do so, the event was moved to mid-February to take advantage of the coldest temperatures—that couldn’t have been truer this year.

“We wanted to show the real Polar Bear story,” Granger said.

Canada is probably one of the few countries that could make this event a popular attraction in the cold.

“It’s a popular event because of the challenge,” Granger said. “It’s crazy, it’s fun, and it’s different.”

There are limits to their tolerance for the cold, however. The event finished 30 minutes early and was almost empty once all of the teams finished taking the plunge.

The Mayor of Verdun, likely having other duties to attend to, was nowhere to be seen after making a brief appearance at the beginning of the event.

The LETR managed to raise nearly $30,000 from the event, which, given the frigid weather, made it an overall success. At the end of the day, everyone was “freezing for a reason,” which was one of the team names at the event.

For Pascal Richard, supporting such an event has double meaning. On the one hand, being a member of the LETR provides police officers with a sense of belonging and pride. Richard is also driven by a desire to better the life of his own daughter, who suffers from an intellectual disability.

“My 12-year-old daughter, Océane, is able to do figure skating and partake in other activities thanks to this organization [SOQ],” Richard said.

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