Call it an icebreaker: About 20 Vassar athletes kicked off their new relationship with Special Olympics by jumping into a frigid lake.
Members of the men’s and women’s soccer teams, the women’s golf team and the novice rowing team joined about 600 other hardy souls at the Special Olympics Polar Plunge Feb. 21 at a lake in Fishkill NY, about 10 miles from the Vassar campus.
“Wow, that was cold, but it was fun!” golfer Angela Mentel ’16 insisted as she scrambled out of the icy water and sprinted to a heated tent. Mentel had carried teammate Aimee Dubois ’16, through the snow to the edge of the lake after Dubois lost all feeling in her feet. The two jumped together, and a few minutes later, Dubois said she too had enjoyed the plunge.
“When I hit the water, I was stunned how cold it was, but it was for a great cause,” she says. “I’m really proud of everyone from Vassar who joined us.” Vassar athletes raised about $1,000 at the event for Special Olympics programs in New York State.
Dubois, who serves as community service representative for the Vassar chapter of the Student Athletes Advisory Council (SAAC), says the Polar Plunge was the first of many events Vassar athletes are planning with Special Olympics coaches and players in the coming year. “NCAA Division III teams across the country have established relationships with Special Olympics, and our SAAC chapter wants to be part of that,” she says.
Dubois said taking part in the Polar Plunge had a special meaning for her. “My aunt has participated in Special Olympics for many years, and I’ve seen the benefits of the program for her,” she says. “This new relationship will benefit our athletes and Special Olympics athletes in the future.”
New York Special Olympics spokesperson Teresa Gilli says she was “thrilled” to see so many plungers from Vassar. “It was great to see Vassar athletes joining us, and we look forward to a long relationship with the college,” Gilli says.
Vassar sports teams plan to honor Special Olympics athletes at games, host clinics and possibly host a Special Olympics event on Vassar’s athletic fields, Dubois says. SAAC is already working to raise awareness on campus about the contributions of student athletes by offering incentives for those attending games and naming faculty representatives for each of the college’s 25 varsity teams.
SAAC President Colleen O’Connell ’15, a member of the women’s basketball team, says she’s encouraged by the progress the organization has made this year in getting athletes involved in events on and off campus. “Wins and losses are important to us while we’re playing,” O’Connell says. “But years from now, when we’ve forgotten the scores of our games, we’ll still remember the relationships we’ve formed with our fellow athletes and our coaches.”
Rowing coach Kaitlyn Brownson agreed. “I wanted us to participate in an event that we’d enjoy and that would unite us as a team, and what better way to do that but to join hands and jump into a frozen lake?” Brownson says. “We’ll be jumping again next year.”
Quinn Cummings ‘18 says she was proud to be a part of an event she’d always remember. “It’s important for athletes to support and raise awareness for programs like Special Olympics,” Cummings says. “It was amazing to see so many athletes come together for this common cause.”
Photos by Carlisle Stockton