The cheers of more than 3,000 people could be heard up and down Virginia Beach as they raced into the icy Atlantic Ocean on Feb. 7 for the annual Polar Plunge Winter Festival, hosted by the Special Olympics of Virginia.
Among the 3,522 participants were more than 100 Special Olympics Virginia athletes and around 50 brothers from University of Richmond's chapter of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. The Special Olympics is the fraternity's main philanthropy, and the Polar Plunge is its biggest philanthropy event.
"It's a really big adrenaline rush," senior SAE brother Ryan Grant said. "It's one of those things where everyone is so pumped to be there."
The brothers of SAE donated $26,000 to the cause, contributing to the $1.1 million total raised for Special Olympics Virginia through the event. The fraternity raised the money by tabling in the Tyler Haynes Commons and asking friends and family members to donate.
"Raising one million dollars for the fourth year in a row is incredible," said Rick Jeffrey, Special Olympics Virginia president, in a statement on the organization's website.
A brother who graduated from Richmond some time ago started the Polar Plunge tradition to support a member of his family who was a Special Olympics athlete. The fraternity decided to continue supporting this brother and his family by making the Special Olympics their philanthropy.
"I have worked with Special Olympic Sailing the past three years, so I know a lot of the athletes and it's really easy to see what a positive experience it is for all of them," said SAE philanthropy chair, sophomore Luke Hatton.
Senior brother Ralph Lanza said the team that had raised the most money had raised $35,000 and had more than 400 members. "So per capita we should've won," he said. Lanza has worked at a camp for kids with special needs for seven years.
Lanza is proud of the connection SAE and Special Olympics Virginia have created over the past six years, as the fraternity is one of the biggest donors.
"I think for me the biggest thing is the amount we raised," Grant said. "It's pretty amazing if you compare it to other philanthropy events at the school. I think $26,000 is probably going to be one of the highest amounts raised by a single group.
"It's just a big, collective effort from all the members of the fraternity. It's good to see the bonding and that everyone wants to help with a great cause."
The fraternity is trying to create an event to be held on campus next spring, and is also working to plan a trip to Jumpology with Special Olympic athletes.
The above picture of Grant and Lanza celebrating after the plunge is featured on the Special Olympics Virginia website.
"Now we're the face of the franchise," Grant said.
Special Olympic Virginia has already started planning the 23rd Polar Plunge at Virginia Beach, scheduled for Feb. 6-7, 2015.
Contact reporter Danielle Schweizer at firstname.lastname@example.org