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Polar Plunge funds Special Olympics

By Elisabeth Dodd, Staff Writer

The Indiana Special Olympics is an organization founded in 1969 that empowers people with intellectual and developmental disabilities through sports.

For those involved, February consists of raising donations through brave volunteers who take part in the yearly tradition of the Polar Plunge. For three years now, community members crowd the beach at Whitewater Memorial State Park to prepare to plunge into the cold lake, or cheer on someone else. One of those fearless people year after year is Special Olympics Athlete Shane Day.

Day took the plunge that first year when the event originally extended to Liberty. Not interested in the cold thrill, he was motivated by his desire to raise money for the organization that he loves. He consistently raises hundreds of dollars, and this year hopes to have $300 in sponsors.

Last year, the Special Olympics' Wayne County branch, led by County Coordinator Lonnie Snow, chose Shane Day as the athlete of the year. This year, the entire Day family is being recognized as family of the year.

“Shane's a real go-getter and role model,” said Snow. “He's got a lot of family support.”

This is immediately evident from the way that Shane's parents, Linda and Kelly, are there cheering him on week after week at every game, match or tournament. Both parents are committed volunteers, and Kelly, a prolific high school basketball player himself, even coached Shane's team for a year.

“I’m very proud and so thankful. This gives him encouragement and helps people to prosper in life,” said Linda. “I've always been involved with the Special Olympics, and I didn't realize how important it was until Shane got into it.”

Linda, in a labor love, proudly displays Shane's trophies and immortalized his best moments in a scrapbook. She constantly receives calls from Shane's brother, Derrick, and other extended family excited to hear about Shane's latest tournament.

As for Shane himself, he is a soft-spoken, bespectacled gentleman wearing a bright yellow sweater to match his even brighter disposition. He admits to being a perfectionist and looks forward to a new task every day at his job at Benchmark. At 43-years-old, he is an avid hunter with decades under his belt to hone his craft, and a taxidermy trophy room to rival his sports trophies. It's clear that he embodies his organization's motto “Please let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in attempt.”

More often than not, though, Shane wins, and he takes pride in both his accomplishments and the little things.

“I've made 99 points in three basketball games” Shane is quick to rattle off his highlights and add that “I love making three-pointers even if Coach doesn't approve.”

It's fitting that someone who enjoys going above and beyond for his team would favor the ambitious shot.

Despite consistently scoring gold, silver and bronze in his favorite sports (which would be basketball or bowling), Shane's real goal is getting more people involved, and helping both teams improve.

For that reason, Shane is the one that can be seen leading his basketball team warm ups, and recruiting everyone from his coworkers to random people in the neighborhood to get involved. Even if someone can't play the game, he wants them there to watch and be a part of the tight community that the Special Olympics fosters.

This is Shane's natural role as someone for whom there are no strangers, only friends he hasn't met yet. When Shane returns to wade in the cold water this year at 12:30 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 23, his friends will be cheering him on. Those who want to sponsor him and get him closer to $300 can call the Day house at 765 825 3370 or contact Lonnie Snow.

Like every other year, Snow spends a majority of his retirement running around getting the Wayne County Special Olympics the $30-35,000 it needs to continue its work. This year, the Union County Foundation donated $500 for two large billboard-style signs to drum up support and awareness for the Polar Plunge and Special Olympics Indiana.