Polar Plunge raises thousands in Emporia

By Zach Hacker, Emporia Gazette

Outdoor temperatures may have climbed into the upper 30s Saturday morning, but the water in Mouse Lake was much colder.

The water temperature was said to be only 26 degrees. That didn’t deter more than 75 people including fraternity and sorority members from Emporia State University from taking a leap — or in some cases, flip — off the dock to bring in money for a good cause.

“This is all about raising money for the Special Olympics,” Lyon County Undersheriff John Koelsch said. “This has been the biggest fundraiser our local law enforcement has put on since it started in 2006.”

All of the funds from Saturday’s event are donated to Special Olympics Kansas. Director of Development for Special Olympics Kansas Mitch Guthrie said the money is used to buy items like medals and ribbons for participants in the 20 sports offered through the program, along with T-shirts for volunteers and equipment.

Another group that helps with the event in several facets is the Sigma Tau Gamma fraternity at Emporia State University. Not only does the group have participants in the plunge and in the annual Polar Strut — a 5K that takes place earlier in the day — it also has several volunteers helping with the event.

Nate Hornung, a native of Overland Park and member of the ESU Chapter of Sigma Tau Gamma, was gearing up to run in the Polar Strut. He said the Special Olympics is the fraternity’s nationwide philanthropy beneficiary.

“It’s all about giving back,” Hornung said. “We have a ton of guys who have heavy, emotional ties to the Special Olympics, so it’s easy to support the organization and support our brotherhood.”

Though he wasn’t plunging Saturday, he has done so in the past. In 2020 he decided to run instead because he is training for a half-marathon this summer.

That made participating in Saturday’s Polar Strut a win-win. He is studying to be a high school teacher, and giving back is a big part of who he is and wants to be in his career.

“It’s all about giving to the kids, giving to the community,” he said. “It’s such a good cause that, you really have no choice but to support it.”

Guthrie said knowing how many people and different segments of the community come together for their benefit means the world to the Special Olympians. He said it has allowed them to make unique relationships that have been life-changing to the athletes.

Koelsch said that is what makes the cause near and dear to him and everyone else in the law enforcement community.

“When you look at the athletes in the Special Olympics and you see what it means to them, that’s what it means to us,” he said.