The first-ever Virtual Polar Plunge set the bar high raising $361,000 for SOO athletes. In addition to the money raised, there was an array of Plunge videos that were posted and shared across the province. Although it was hard to choose the most creative Plunge, one did stand out amongst the pack. The Arcade Polar Plunge submitted by Oliver Paipoonge Fire and Emergency Services was chosen as this year’s most creative Plunge.
The voice featured in the video is that of Officer Tara Bottan of the Canadian Border Security Agency (CBSA) in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Employed with CBSA for over 20 years, Officer Bottan has continued to support SOO athletes in her role as a LETR Representative. According to Bottan, the team was elated to hear that they had won. “I shared the news with everyone through WhatsApp or text and the responses ranged from “Whhhhaaaat? That’s awesome!” to “Very cool - way to go team!” exclaims Bottan.
What made team Borderline Insanity’s win that much sweeter was the fact that the idea of the Polar Plunge Arcade was a collective one. “The Polar Plunge Arcade was truly a group collaboration,” says Bottan. “One of my coworkers, Shane, is a volunteer firefighter in the township where he lives and he’s been offering the services of his pumper truck every time I've planned a Torch Run over the past few years…” Bottan continues, “he would always offer to come spray us down and for one reason or other, it never worked out until now.” Bottan adds. “I decided that February, one of Thunder Bay’s coldest months of the year, seemed like a great time to finally accept his offer!”
Obviously, the Arcade Polar Plunge would not have come to fruition without the people headlining the Plunge. No more apparent than star of the plunge, SOO athlete Tyler Rissanen, who is the young adult soaking the bobbing Fire Marshals with a hose. Tyler is a true athlete, as he competes in a variety of sports, from softball, snowshoeing, floor hockey, swimming and track and field. Tyler’s resume includes competing at the regional, provincial, and national level. Recently, Tyler earned himself a spot on the Special Olympics Canada (SOC) Snowshoe Team and is part of the Team Canada Training Squad. No stranger to the Polar Plunge, Tyler’s prior history with Special Olympics Ontario caught the eye of Bottan. “I asked Tyler to be involved in our Plunge because he's become a family friend,” tells Bottan. “I was first introduced to Tyler as a participant in our local Special Olympics high school sports days,” Bottan continues. “While volunteering, I met his mom Nancy, who explained to me how the introduction of SOO had made such a world of difference in her son’s life. I was moved by her story and it would become a story that I would come to hear over and over again from hundreds of different parents, coaches and athletes from around the world as my knowledge and involvement in Special Olympics grew.”
A major reason for the growing involvement with Special Olympics has been LETR’s persistent commitment to inform the public about Special Olympics and the importance of unstinting support. This level of involvement is something Bottan acknowledges she sees on a daily basis. “I think that the LETR in Ontario has really made great strides in diversifying the types of fundraising done and that has allowed us to reach different audiences with more opportunities to support SOO programming,” expresses Tara. “I think people want to be involved in activities or events that give them an experience or something to share – something they can talk about long after the day of the event." Bottan continues, “I also believe that people love seeing that their donations really make a difference to the people in their own communities”.
With COVID-19 impacting our daily lives over the past year, one thing remained the same - that being the enjoyment and satisfaction of being a part of the Polar Plunge. That enjoyment was arguably felt no more strongly than by Team Borderline Insanity. “I know our team didn't raise the most funds or have the fanciest production, but we all had a blast!” exclaims Bottan. “Tyler has been talking about how much fun he had for weeks and my work partners were all disappointed we didn't get to run around soaking each other longer!”
Once again, congratulations to Team Borderline Insanity on this year's most creative Polar Plunge and thank you for your fundraising efforts! We look forward to seeing what you have in store for next year!