Plunging into a frozen lake in the dead of winter isn't something most people are motivated to do. It's br[rrr]isk and hitting that icy cold water can leave you breathless. Just ask Randy Vath, Warehouse and Equipment Administrator at our Eagan Shop. He's done it more than 80 times. Yes, you read that right – 80+ times.
Randy doesn't do it because he enjoys jumping into 33-degree water in frigid weather, or just to say he did it. He is motivated by much deeper, more personal reasons. He's on a Polar Plunge team that raises funds for Special Olympics Minnesota, an organization that has become an important part of his family's life.
On March 16, 2007, Randy and his wife Julie welcomed their son, Logan, into the world. Born with Down Syndrome, Logan changed the trajectory of their lives and sent them into new directions they never could have predicted. Daughter Carlee joined the family two years later.
“At first, we didn't know what to do," said Randy. “Our baby was in a level 2 hospital nursery and the future was uncertain. As fate would have it, four other babies born with Down Syndrome were there at the same time. Shared circumstances drew us to the other parents, forming a strong camaraderie that remains today. Additionally, good friends of ours, Brandon and Michelle had a baby born with Down Syndrome in 2008, a year after Logan was born."
That's when Randy and Julie got involved with Special Olympics. Brandon's employer, Rochester Motor Cars, is a major supporter of Special Olympics and the Polar Plunge in the Rochester area where Randy and Julie live.
“Brandon asked me if I wanted to start plunging into frozen lakes to support Special Olympics," Randy said. “So, we started plunging and been doing it ever since."
Mega Plunge Team
With support from donors, Rochester Motor Cars created a “mega plunge team." One of Rochester's largest fundraising teams, they raised nearly $46,000 this year, boosting them to the #1 position on the
2020 Polar Plunge leaderboard for medium-sized businesses in Minnesota.
Three years ago, Randy, Brandon and another friend from Rochester Motor Cars decided to do the “Super Plunge", and they have done it every year since. Each Super Plunge participant jumps into a lake 24 times in a 24-hour period. It only happens at a few Polar Plunge locations, and Special Olympics Minnesota only allows about 10 people to participate at each location, due to the amenities required. Each plunger must have a dedicated handler, EMTs are on site, as well as a Sheriff's department dive team. It's an elite group.
“If you think jumping in the water once is hard, jumping multiple times is even harder," said Randy. “It's a mind over matter thing – you jump in, and yes, you're shocked and cold, but then you warm up in a warming tent and sauna. There's a lot of hoopla and adrenaline. There's a DJ blasting music, crowds of people and the media. It's a lot of fun, and we've never experienced an adverse incident."
As part of the Rochester area Polar Plunges on February 7, Randy jumped into a frozen lake a total of 26 times – once with the Zumbrota-Mezepa Cool School plungers, once with the Rochester Motor Cars plungers and 24 times with the Super Plungers.
“That put me at 84 jumps so far since 2008," said Randy. “Next year when I do the Super Plunge, I will have jumped more than 100 times."
2020 had another highlight: Carlee Vath, now 11, made her first plunges as part of Rochester Motor Cars and Zumbrota-Mezepa.
Young Athletes Program
In addition to the Polar Plunge, Randy and Julie volunteer with the Special Olympics Young Athletes program in the Rochester area.
Young Athletes is a fun and engaging program that focuses on developing fine and gross motor skills for kids ages two to seven, while introducing them to the world of sports.
“When the kids are young, a lot of times they have low muscle tone, and heart defects are common," said Randy. “The Young Athletes program first helps them develop motor skills and then provides opportunities to discover where their interests are, including what sport or activity they might enjoy. We help them get to that place."
For Logan last year, that activity was bowling. So it was fitting for associates to assemble 1,200 snack kits for the Special Olympics state bowling competition during our 2019 United Way Campaign. Filled with healthy snacks and encouragement cards, the kits were distributed to the athletes, families and volunteers at the event.
2019 Building Community Award
Randy nominated Special Olympics Minnesota for the
2019 Building Community Award. The organization was a finalist and received a $5,000 grant from the Opus Foundation®.
“Opus has always been a strong supporter, going way above and beyond to support us," said Randy. “For eight years, the Opus Foundation has awarded $5,000 grants to Special Olympics Minnesota, and that's huge."
Randy went on to say, “My wife and I view our son Logan's Down Syndrome as a huge opportunity. It's probably the best thing that has ever happened to us. We've met so many amazing people, and it has given purpose to our lives that we never dreamed possible."
If you are interested in learning more about Special Olympics Minnesota, visit their website.
Since 2011, the Opus Foundation has awarded $60,0000 to Special Olympics MN and $15,000 to the Colorado chapter.