By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Marlborough – It has become a tradition statewide from January through March for hearty supporters of Special Olympics Massachusetts (SOMA) to plunge into chilly lakes and the Atlantic Ocean. Meanwhile, a unique fundraising dive began last year in Marlborough.
The second annual Polar Plunge will take place Saturday, March 4 at a swimming pool stationed in the parking lot of Yawkey Sports Training Center, the SOMA headquarters. The idea was spearheaded by Officer Andy LaRose of the Marlborough Police Department (MPD) after attending the International Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) Conference in the Bahamas during autumn 2015.
At last year’s inaugural plunge, LaRose explained, “I saw the impact that police can make and knew about other plunges. I figured we could add another event for Special Olympics in Marlborough, considering their headquarters is right here.”
According to its website, “SOMA provides year-round sports training, athletic competition and other health-related programming for athletes with intellectual disabilities throughout the state.”
For the past three years, LaRose also organized the MPD Motorcycle Ride as a fundraiser for SOMA. This year’s ride is scheduled for Saturday, June 24, beginning and ending at the SOMA headquarters, 512 Forest Street.
Fittingly, LaRose was selected by SOMA to be a guardian of the flame at the fall 2016 International LETR Conference in New Orleans. He attended the conference alongside law enforcement officers statewide and SOMA staff including Mary Beth McMahon, president and CEO.
“Andy was the driving force of bringing LETR into Marlborough,” she said. “There’s no better partnership than Special Olympics and LETR because it truly is the grassroots level.”
Plungers can register individually or with a team. Among the first six registered teams is Avidia Bank. Their captain is Michael Allard, senior vice president of marketing. McMahon appreciates his ongoing support.
“There’s a public perception that Special Olympics is a one-day track meet for children with Down syndrome,” she acknowledged. “Mike, being a parent and corporate leader in town, helps us knock down the perception so that people realize we’re here doing sports and good community activities every day. Avidia Bank has a great social marketing platform, which they’ve used to help spread the word as well.”
McMahon also appreciates Wegmans of Northborough Crossing. In addition to employees plunging as a team, the supermarket will again provide refreshments for participants and volunteers. Their donation keeps the event expenses low.
“Companies like Wegmans allow us to put more money back into the community,” McMahon noted. “Every dollar raised allows us to put more athletes on the playing field and make sure they stay on that playing field for life.”
While helping to manage the event, LaRose will get support from colleagues. The MPD registered a team with Officer Borden Wicks as captain. The law enforcement presence will extend beyond Marlborough. Registered as Team “Sea” are officers of Massachusetts State Police Troop C. Heading that team is Capt. Pasquale Russolillo with Maj. Susan Anderson.
Another team consists of its captain George Larassa representing Marlborough Moose 1129. He announced on Facebook that he’ll be joined by Paul Burgess of Hudson Eagles Aerie 643. Additionally, Larassa shared, “I might even wear something crazy if I get enough donations.”
Elisabeth Baer previously plunged at Revere Beach individually, then later with Fitchburg State College schoolmates. This year, she registered as a team with her family in Marlborough.
Whether plunging individually or with a team, each participant is asked to raise a minimum of $100, for which they’ll receive a commemorative long-sleeve T-shirt. Other incentives are a coffee mug for $250, blanket $500, lunch cooler $750, bathrobe $1,000, quarter-zip pullover $1,500, and Bluetooth speaker $2,000.
Another incentive gift is to be determined, noted Stephanie Esposito, the SOMA events, marketing and activation manager.
“We’re still working on an incentive for $5,000,” she said. “We want to make sure it’s really unique.”
While preregistration is preferred, plungers can register onsite beginning at 9 a.m. The plunge will start at 11 a.m. For more information, and to register or donate, visit www.specialolympicsma.org/polarplungemarlborough.