By Eleanor Lapin
When Kaitlin Dykes first got involved in Special Olympics in 2013, she wasted no time “turning up the heat” on her involvement by also registering for the Polar Plunge, Special Olympics Virginia’s largest annual fundraiser - which is much more than a cold swim. The event supports year-round competition opportunities for athletes like Kaitlin, but also urges the importance of inclusion of people with disabilities in all facets of the community.
In 2014, the soccer, basketball, and softball triathlete made her first splash in Virginia Beach, which she described as the “coldest water option” (there are several other Plunges throughout Virginia, including one in Richmond at Pocahontas Park, two in Northern Virginia and one in the New River Valley). Kaitlin decided to participate because “it’s a fundraiser for Special Olympics,” but emphasized that it is crucial for people other than just athletes to participate, too.
This year, Kaitlin is taking her icy dip with her a group of Chesapeake athletes, her twin sister, her sister's friend, her cousin and several other family members. In 2022, Kaitlin joined the Chesapeake Sheriff’s Office team as she is a part of their Elite Unit, a program specifically designed for people with intellectual disabilities.
While Plunge-mates are a must, there is little else Kaitlin does in advance to prepare on event day. She always takes pictures in the tent on the beach, but then “you just do it. No waiting!” If you’re nervous, she added “everybody’s energy and the fact that you get to raise money for the Special Olympics” makes it easy to brave the Atlantic. And since she’s plunged nine times now and said, “every year has been super fun,” she definitely speaks from experience.
Before event day, though, Kaitlin certainly “turns up the heat” on her fundraising efforts for Special Olympics Virginia, an organization that means so much to her. Just as the energy of the people taking the plunge is one of Kaitlin’s favorite parts of the event, she said her favorite part of Special Olympics is that “we’re a community; everyone is everyone’s friend.”
To date, Kaitlin has raised more than $4700 for the organization. This year, she also is the “face” of the Polar Plunge commercials on WTKR News 3 and many of the event advertisements encouraging the community to participate.
But don’t just take Kaitlin’s word for it; come see for yourself. Volunteer or brrr-ave the wave with her Feb. 4 in Virginia Beach - but bring water shoes because the sand is just as chilly as the water itself, she added!
Are you ready to “turn up the heat” like Kaitlin and go for the cold?!