Daemen Wins Polar Plunge Challenge to Support Special Olympics

By | December 7, 2021

A team including ten Daemen undergraduates won the Polar Plunge College Challenge last weekend, besting five other schools and raising nearly $3,500 to support the Special Olympics.

The Daemen team

The funds will support six athletes for a year, as they travel to compete in events.

“The real winners of the competitions are the athletes,” said Colleen Wilkinson, an assistant professor in the Department of Education at Daemen. “This contest helps expose our students to a larger community of inclusivity in Western New York.”

Amid swirling winds and choppy waters Saturday, students chanted “Daemen-Daemen-Daemen” as they followed a torch-carrying athlete down to the frigid waters at Woodlawn Beach State Park. 

“I’ve seen cannon balls and belly flops. Some dip a toe,” said Wilkinson. “As you walk down to the water, that nervous energy is building and building. It’s controlled chaos.”

Prior to plunging, students heard directly from Special Olympics athletes who spoke about their goals, upcoming competitions and thanked fundraisers. 

The event is also educational for students, said Wilkinson, who has helped field teams for the contest for eight years – seven while at Medaille College.

“When learning to become a teacher, we need experiences seeing children with disabilities as a whole person and learning how to build trust and relationships with families,” she said. 

Overall, the event – which included teams from high schools and companies – raised more than $260,000.

Daemen’s team – Wilkinson’s first at the college – topped Buffalo State, St. Bonaventure, University at Buffalo, Niagara Community Community and others. Susan Dunkle, an associate professor of education, helped organize the effort. 

Daemen postgraduate Allie Mazurkiewicz raised more than $600 – among the highest totals raised by a college student.