Kristen Bunting is surrounded by inspiration.
Her oldest daughter, Madeline, a Legal Academy, advanced studies straight-A student through high school, is currently on a full-tuition scholarship at William & Mary – and she also happens to have cerebral palsy. Growing up, Kristen’s dad made philanthropy a part of his everyday vocabulary. He hosted annual charity golf tournaments to benefit Make-A-Wish and founded a Children’s Advocacy Center in Loudon, Tennessee. He also had muscular dystrophy and was wheelchair-bound later in life.
Kristen’s sister, Danielle Broadstreet, and their dad were each awarded the honor of running the Olympic torch (in different years) due to their extensive community service. Her mom is a retired nurse who spent years delivering meals to those in need through the Meals on Wheels program.
But what Kristen may not realize, because there isn’t an ounce of pride in her generous heart, is that she is an inspiration, too.
For most of the last 17 years, Kristen has participated in the Polar Plunge, personally raising more than $17,000 for Special Olympics Virginia. This year, her 26-person team, the PACC (Princess Anne Country Club) Plungers, truly is “turning up the heat,” currently tipping the fundraising scales at $25,000 – and they’re still counting.
For Kristen, it’s a chance to give back to a community that faces unique challenges that she, too, understands. It’s also a chance to give the joy of sports to a population that is often overlooked but doesn’t have to be.
“Playing sports all my life gives me the insight to know how life-changing being an athlete can be,” she said. “Experiencing personal determination, pride of one's progress and the sense of being part of a team? Priceless. If I can help that happen for these amazing athletes and their families, I'm all in.”
Kristen, who also has muscular dystrophy, has carried the Plunge with her through several job changes, always recruiting and building new teams wherever she goes. At each location, it’s a chance to build community and create relationships, she said, and of course, come up with new costume themes.
“Watching my Plunge teammates each year, and what they experience through the event process, puts a huge grin on my face,” Kristen said. “Every year, I hear 'I can't believe that person donated to me!' It bonds people in a way they never knew could happen. And the actual plunge, running into that freezing ocean together, knowing it's for a fantastic reason...true friends are made that day. Every year, first-time plungers immediately say they're in again next year! I LOVE THIS.”
While she says she’s retiring this year, we may just have to wait and see. After all, she did say that last year, too. Until then, be sure to keep an eye out for her team on the sand next weekend – just look for Ted Lasso and the AFC Richmond soccer team, channeling their inner Ted … “If you care about someone, and you got a little love in your heart, there ain’t nothing you can’t get through together.”
Glad we’re together on the same team, Kristen!