Chicago Polar Plunge 2023: Thousands brave Lake Michigan waters in support of Special Olympics

ByMaher Kawash and Megan Hawkins WLS logo
Monday, March 6, 2023
Chicago Polar Plunge 2023: Thousands brave Lake Michigan waters in support of Special Olympics
EMBED <>More Videos

Thousands of people participated in the Chicago Polar Plunge 2023 at North Avenue Beach in support of the Special Olympics.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- It's a winter tradition in Chicago.

"We got our wetsuits, and we're ready to rock and roll," said Mel Handy.

Thousands braved the icy waters of Lake Michigan, all for a good cause. Sunday was Rory Hamil's 15th polar plunge.

"The minute you come here you see the kids, the young athletes and the young adults. If that doesn't get you, I don't know what does," Hamil said.

The 23rd Annual Polar Plunge at North Avenue Beach benefits Special Olympics Chicago and special children's charities. It was Angie Bernal's first-ever polar plunge.

"It feels really good, especially coming from my brother and I both being former athletes, just knowing about Special Olympics, because we also had in my high school," Bernal said. "It's really nice to see like, wow, what the big impact that does."

The event raised $2 million and had nearly 5,000 participants. That money is used to provide athletic programs and other opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities across Chicago.

"We have a great time coming out every year. It's a beautiful day. We can't wait to get in the lake. Let's do it!" said Erin Harty, a polar plunge participant.

Perhaps, no one is making a bigger splash than the crew from Mount Greenwood teaming up for Special Olympics Athlete Kidd Carrig.

"I feel great. I won two gold medals. We're having fun!" Kidd Carrig said.

Neighbors, friends and family with Kidd's Krue raised $100,000, the most of any group at Sunday's event, for the Special Olympics.

"That goes to show you the dedication the people in our neighborhood has to these kids," said Tim Carrig.

That money helps fund training, uniforms and competitions, like the Summer Games and the Winter Games.

"The money goes to the kids. Everything the kids need is taken care of by this huge day," Tim Carrig said.

Kidd's Krue takes pride that their plunge has greater purpose.

"Coming out here to support athletes like him, and all these other kids, it's just a wonderful day!" said Chris Rosenlund.

Special Olympics Chicago Athlete Jimmy Naughton, who participates in events like basketball power lifting and snow shoeing, spoke with ABC7 ahead of the event.

He also works at a local library, and competes with his Shabbona Park team, who he wished luck in their Sunday events.

"It's great," Naughton said. "I'm very proud of the park I compete at."

ABC7 also spoke with St. Patrick High School alum James Caprio, who is the founder of the Lasallian Youth Team. He helped start the polar plunge tradition.

He said it was about 10 degrees outside during the first polar plunge event.

Luckily, temperatures were more mild for this plunge. Chicago Fire Department Deputy District Chief Jason Lach said the water in Lake Michigan was about 42 degrees on Sunday morning.

"It's going to be a rude awakening," Lach said. "But, it will be definitely be OK for everyone walking in today."

Lach said there would be at least 10 divers in the water to ensure everyone is safe. Police and lifeguards were also on the scene.

Fundraising remains open through the end of March. You can donate online here.