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2024 Chicago Polar Plunge raises money for Special Olympics


More than 5,000 people rushed into the freezing waters of Lake Michigan on Sunday for the 24th Annual Chicago Polar Plunge, raising more than a million dollars for Special Olympics programs.

Attendees, many wearing flashy costumes and matching costumes, were graced by the sunny 60-degree weather as they splashed around in the lake.

All proceeds will benefit Special Olympics Chicago athletes and will fund transportation for competitions, uniforms and equipment. Last year, the drop raised $2.1 million.

The event continued for hours as participants took turns running along the beach. Some walked up to their waists, while others threw their heads forward in response to the cheers of the crowd. The groups took photos before emerging from the cold water.

After diving into the water, 45-year-old Kathryn Trnka danced on the sand to the Bruce Springsteen song blaring from the speakers. She was wearing a white, flowing dress and a blonde wig.

“I like to think of myself as a modern-day Marilyn Monroe,” Trnka said. “I thought, ‘You know what? “Play big or don’t play at all.”

This is his first time participating in this initiative, which he participated in through his employer, ComEd. He said the unseasonably warm weather alleviates the feeling of cold water.

“It was great, warmer than I expected,” Trnka said. “We are very lucky with the weather conditions this year.”

Shannon Rovers lead the parade as participants dive into Lake Michigan on a warm morning during the 24th Annual Chicago Polar Plunge at North Avenue Beach on Sunday, March 3, 2024. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)

This was the fifth anniversary of 75-year-old Mariana Zoretic. She shuddered as she wrapped the towel around her shoulders. However, the enthusiastic athlete, who has run marathons 10 times, did not give up on the cold.

“It was fun,” said Zoretic, who is originally from Croatia. “But it was still slippery. You slip and slide.

Zoretic hopes to return next year. “If I’m alive,” he added, laughing.

The beach lined with white tents was filled with spectators. A group of hopeful participants wearing bright swimsuits and athletic gear snaked their way along the shore. Even Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson was among those in attendance, the city said Wednesday.

“This event represents our city’s commitment to inclusivity, empowerment and community support,” Johnson said in a statement.

Representing the Chicago Athletic Club, 43-year-old Kate Kreissl waited in line with her two sons. Her group wore bright pink Barbie t-shirts.

“We just thought: ‘What has been uplifting and inspiring this year?’ And this is Barbie,” Kreissl said.

Kreissl added that the sunny skies eased his nerves. Her 8-year-old son Bennett stood expressionless next to her.

“It’s going to be cold,” Bennett said.

Joe Vanis stood further back in the line, wearing only a white coat emblazoned with his employer’s Progressive name. This was his third fall; This year, his team of six raised $1,500.

“You’re going to be nervous right before, and that’s going to be the case when you come in,” Vanis, 37, said.

He recalled how volunteers had to break ice on the lake surface during the 2019 plunge.

“So it’s nothing,” Vanis said, smiling as the sun set.



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