Thousands of Chicagoans, Celebrities Take the Polar Plunge for Special Olympics

Thousands of people jumped into Lake Michigan for the Chicago Polar Plunge on Sunday morning, braving the frigid waters for a good cause.

Now in its 17th year, the annual event raises money to support athletes involved in Special Olympics Chicago.

The event kicked off at 9 a.m. on North Avenue Beach, with the first wave of plungers hitting the water at 10 a.m. [[415423353, C]]

In that first wave was actor Dax Shepard, who served as this year’s VIP, or "very important plunger."

Shepard, known for his roles in "Without a Paddle" and "Parenthood," followed in the footsteps of fellow celebrity plungers like Jimmy Fallon, Vince Vaughn and Lady Gaga.

"Excited is not the word I would use to describe it, but I am willing - I think willing’s the word," Shepard quipped before diving into the frigid water.

"You know, it raises a ton of money – I think they’ve raised a million and a half dollars already for Special Olympics – so it’s great to be a part of anything that raises that kind of money for a great cause," he added. 

He later tweeted that he "survived," adding that it "was humbling to meet the awesome athletes and be a part of something so good." [[415427483, C]]

Starring in the upcoming action comedy "CHiPS," Shepard wore his uniform from the film reboot of the buddy cop television series to take the plunge. [[371205441, C]]

He was far from alone in dressing for the occasion, joined by participants in costumes, tutus, bow ties and more. 

While the water temperature was a brisk 40 degrees, plungers weren’t forced to brave the more frigid weather of years past. Chicago Park District crews said they didn’t have to remove any ice from the lake on Sunday, unlike the conditions in 2015 and 2014.

Those jumping into the water were also greeted by another familiar face back on land. Bears legend Brian Urlacher spent the morning cooking and serving free bratwursts to participants after they plunged. [[415431253, C]]

While Special Olympics Chicago has not yet announced the total amount of money raised, the event regularly brings in upwards of $1 million each year.

Last year’s event broke all previous fundraising records, totaling $1.5 million to support athletes in a variety of ways, including much-needed transportation to get to their programs and competitions. 

"She gets to compete year-round at events, and she gets to travel independently with her team," said Erin Folan, alongside her daughter Emma, who is one of more than 6,800 athletes involved with Special Olympics Chicago.

Sunday marked their sixth Polar Plunge together, and they shared why taking part in the event is so important to them. [[415397193, C]]

"You can see all the people here today, it creates such a community of support for her and her friends," Erin said.

To learn more about Special Olympics Chicago or donate to the event, visit

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