North Americans have been ringing in the New Year for generations by running into the local lake for a freezing, refreshing and, often, very quick, dip. The Law Enforcement Torch Run and Whitehorse’s Edward Jones is giving Yukoners the opportunity to take part in this time-honoured tradition, but with a more noble cause in mind–the support of Special Olympics Yukon.

“Yukoners love this sort of stuff,” said Serge Michaud, CEO of Special Olympics Yukon. “It’s the sort of thing they can tell their grandkids. ‘I jumped into cold water in the Yukon at -45.’ I figure it’s in line with ‘I used to have to walk two miles to school through waist deep snow, uphill both ways.’”

The basic idea behind the Polar Plunge is that participants raise $100 (or more) in pledges for Special Olympics Yukon and then they jump into a bin of cold water on Dec. 28. The faint of heart may be comforted to know there is a hot tub to climb into afterwards and that the whole event takes place in the parking lot of the Yukon Convention Centre (4051 4th Ave., Whitehorse), so participants will be able to get warm and dry quickly after the swim.

“It’s as much about the gesture of support for the Special Olympics movement and the experience for the participants as it is about the fundraising,” said Michaud. “Of course we’re excited and very grateful for the funds raised, but we also see it as a fun way to increase awareness of the work we do.”

For more than 35 years, Special Olympics Yukon has optimized the benefits of a healthy and active lifestyle through sport to improve the wellbeing of individuals with an intellectual disability. Their work takes many forms, from developmental programs, to recreational sport opportunities, to provincial, national and international games.

Presented by Whitehorse Home Hardware, the mission of the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Yukon is to increase awareness and raise funds for the Special Olympics movement. The Law Enforcement Torch Run is the largest grassroots fundraiser and public awareness vehicle for Special Olympics. Since its inception in 1981, it has grown extensively worldwide with over 97,000 volunteers spanning 46 countries, and raising more than US$460 million for the Special Olympics movement. 

“Fundraising is only part of what the officers involved with the initiative give to the movement,” said Michaud. “Our athletes say law enforcement officers are truly supportive of the cause, extending to them friendship, acceptance and encouragement.”

The Law Enforcement Torch Run started running Polar Plunge events in different areas around the world as early as the 1990s, but the event only came to Whitehorse two years ago. 

“We kept thinking there’s no way we could pull it off here,” said Michaud. “ We thought people would think it was too cold or that the idea was too crazy, but then we thought, Yukoners are a bit crazy so we gave it a try and the next thing we knew we had 28 people jumping into cold water at -45 … at least at that temperature the water is significantly warmer than the air.”

Last year’s event saw participant numbers swell to 55. The temperature was a comparatively balmy -12. Michaud hopes that this year’s number will break 50.

If you think you’ve got what it takes to join them, and you’re over the age of 18, sign up at SpecialOlympicsYukon.ca. Bonus points if you dress up as a superhero for the event. And for those of you not feeling quite so brave, spectators are very welcome as well.

Do you remember when January was always cold?