Plunging with Purpose

Created: Mar 07, 2024
Category: General News

Virginia Knights surpass $1 million raised for Special Olympics through Polar Plunges since 2013

By Cecilia Engbert



The shores of Virginia Beach are generally empty during the cold winter months, but that was not the case Feb. 3, the day of Virginia’s annual Polar Plunge Festival. That afternoon, thousands of people — including more than 100 Knights, family members and friends — rushed into the Atlantic Ocean, many fully submerging despite water temperatures around 45 degrees, all to raise money for Special Olympics.

K of C councils across Virginia have been participating in Special Olympics Polar Plunges every winter for more than a decade. This year was a landmark for those polar-plunging Knights, who surpassed $1 million raised since 2013.

“This is a huge accomplishment for us,” said Virginia State Deputy Patrick Rowland, who has taken the Plunge the past seven years. “When we first started, we were only raising $20,000 to $30,000 for a couple years. Then it just took off.”

In 2023, the Knights raised more than $170,000 through the Polar Plunge, enough to be the sole sponsor of entry fees, accommodations and all the necessities for athletes competing in the Special Olympics Virginia fall games.

They are on track to raise $200,000 in 2024, with 44 council teams participating at the Virginia Beach plunge, 12 council teams participating in satellite plunges around the state, and 37 additional councils contributing monetarily.

“As the Knights continue to grow here in Virginia, our participation in the Polar Plunges is going to grow,” State Deputy Rowland said. “We’re bringing in the younger generation, and they’re really promoting it. Many of them are already planning for next year.”

Polar Plunges are an ideal way for Knights to involve their families in living out the pillar of charity, said John White, past grand knight of Arlington Council 2473 and the Special Olympics committee chair for the Virginia State Council.

“I see the Knights of Columbus as a family organization, not just a fraternal organization,” White said. “The Polar Plunge is a perfect charitable event that we can do on an equal basis with our spouses and with our children and grandchildren.”

White first participated in the Polar Plunge at Virginia Beach in 2016. He considered it a bucket-list item, something he would do once — not counting on his 7-year-old daughter, Allison, having the time of her life and forcing him to take her back year after year. She began fundraising with her friends, over the years helping Council 2473 raise $169,650 of the Knights’ $1 million total. Allison, now in high school, was the third highest fundraiser overall at this year’s Virginia Beach Polar Plunge, with nearly $13,700.

“The Polar Plunge is an extremely wholesome event,” White said. “What it does — my daughter and her friends are testament to this — is get our kids involved in thinking and caring about other people at a very young age. It’s a fun event that they’re excited to do, and they love the atmosphere. Creating a legacy of serving others starts young.”

The Polar Plunge Festival also gives Knights an opportunity to meet Special Olympics athletes, many of whom participate.

“You learn about their lives; you learn how you’re impacting them and helping them. Having that capability of interacting one-on-one with the athletes of Special Olympics is truly special,” White said.

David Thomason, president of Special Olympics Virginia, has worked with Special Olympics for 37 years, and he has witnessed the impact that Knights in Virginia have had in their more than 30 years of financial and volunteer support for the organization.

“It’s hard to overstate how important the partnership is with the Knights and Special Olympics Virginia,” Thomason said. “The Knights give their best and they want to know how they can make it even better for our athletes, our volunteers, our parents, our coaches.”

Thomason attributes the Knights’ growing involvement with Special Olympics Virginia to the relationships they have built with the athletes and their families.

“It’s the strength of those relationships, particularly over this amount of time, that has just increased their desire to have more impact,” Thomason said. “There’s this comprehensive involvement from the Knights — we can always count on them being wherever they can help us.”


CECILIA ENGBERT is a content producer for the Knights of Columbus communications department.