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Special Olympics President Has Raised $250,000 for Polar Plunge

By Paul Biasco | February 26, 2014 8:28am
 Jen Kramer, the president of Special Olympics Chicago, has personally raised more than $250,000 while participating in the Polar Plunge over the past 10 years.
Jen Kramer
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OLD TOWN — Jen Kramer is not only the president of Special Olympics Chicago, but also the honorary costume designer for her group's outfits for each year's Polar Plunge.

Previous costumes have included participants dressed as donuts with coffee cup hats, red Solo cups flanking Kramer, who was donning a beer keg, and plungers wearing portions of the Chicago flag last year to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the Special Olympics' birth right here in Chicago.

This year is different as buzz surrounding Sunday morning's event is growing in the city after "Tonight Show" host Jimmy Fallon's announcement that he will accept the challenge Mayor Rahm Emanuel's challenge to participate.

Kramer, who has personally raised more than $250,000 for Special Olympics Chicago, won't spoil her costume surprise, but gave a hint: "Think cold weather bear."

The event has seen a huge surge in popularity over the past two years, Kramer said, and the addition of Fallon and first-time plunger Emanuel has boosted the number of participants even further.

Last year, the event's 2,300 participants raised almost $1 million for Special Olympics Chicago.

This year is looking like there will be at least 20 percent more plungers, but that number could grow as participants can still show up the day of the event and pay the required $150.

"I said to my Mom, 'This is like having Elvis Presley showing up at the Chicago Theater,'" Kramer said of Fallon. "He's the hottest thing in entertainment right now."

Kramer, an Old Town resident who has participated in the previous 10 plunges, has made it her "personal mission" to make sure participants and the city remember the true goal of the event.

"It's really about taking care of our neediest people in the world," she said. "There isn't one person I have met that doesn't have a tender spot for somebody that has special needs."

The Special Olympics, Kramer points out, were started in Chicago and were first held in Soldier Field in 1968.

"It's been referred to as one of Chicago's greatest exports to the world," she said. "It's important people know that. There's a lot of civic pride attached to that."

Her fundraising, which reached $50,000 last year, doesn't come from corporate donors or in large chunks, but from hundreds of people reached through hard work.

The Chicago version of the plunge is in its 14 year at North Avenue Beach and has grown to be one of the largest in the country.

"We have a great problem on our hands and that's how to accommodate more people in that same space," Kramer said.