The Special Olympics raised a record $1.1 million on Sunday during Chicago’s Polar Plunge event. Among those jumping into the icy waters of Lake Michigan were a handful of celebrities, including Vince Vaughn, the celebrity guest of honor, and Lady Gaga, whose appearance surprised everybody involved.
Before taking his jump, Vaughn, the star of such movies as Old School and Wedding Crashers, pumped up the crowd as they stood waiting in the cold temperatures. Saying “It’s too late to turn back now,” the native of Lake Forest, Illinois, urged the assembled to “go out there and have some fun.” Vaughn’s participation in the event came about after the Special Olympics ran a successful campaign on social media using the hashtag #VinnyDippin.
As guest of honor, Vaughn was first to jump. After emerging from the frigid water, he proclaimed the experience to be “fantastic,” Gaga, 28, and her fiancé Taylor Kinney, star of Chicago Fire, were then spotted on North Avenue Beach, waiting for their chance to plunge into the lake. Jumpers and spectators alike were abuzz with the question of whether the woman was indeed Gaga herself. It was. Not even organizers of the event were aware that Gaga would be participating until just before the start of the event.
After emerging from the lake dripping wet and smiling, Gaga told the swarming media, on hand to report on the Polar Plunge, that the jump had been “awesome.” Sunday may have been the first time that Gaga participated in the icy jump for charity, but this was Kinney’s second year. This time, Kinney not only brought along Gaga for the plunge, but also his co-stars of Chicago Fire, Randy Flagler and David Eigenberg.
Also taking the plunge with Gaga on Sunday were 4,500 other people willing to risk the frigid waters to raise money for the Special Olympics. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a candidate for mayor of the city, also participated, as did a 57-year-old police officer for River Grove, Joe Giovenco. Bare-chested and clad only in shorts, the officer shouted to those assembled, “Who says it’s cold?”
As is custom during Polar Plunges, those jumping showed up in all sorts of attire, including superhero costumes, bikinis, suits with top hats, yoga pants and sports jerseys. Vaughn, himself a fan of the Chicago Blackhawks, came clad in a Jonathan Toews sweater. Surprisingly, Gaga was more understated than most in her t-shirt and pants.
One participant, 26-year-old Stephanie Blood from Orland Park, said she was dressed as Princess Daisy from MarioKart, a video game. She wore a cardboard box encircling her waist. This was Blood’s third Polar Plunge.
Washington, D.C. resident Jared Pavan, 27, told the Chicago Tribune that he had figured that Lake Michigan was going to be cold. In his soaking wet Power Rangers costume, Pavan allowed that he “just didn’t know it was going to be frozen.” He added that he felt “great” to be able to help such “an amazing cause.”
Speaking with the Chicago Tribune, the president of Special Olympics Chicago and its fundraising organization, Special Children’s Charities, Casey Hogan, praised Gaga for “[coming] out for the cause” without notifying the press or making it a spectacle. “She’s pure heart,” he added. While grateful for those jumping, including Vaughn and Gaga, Hogan was also pleased to see the sheer number of spectators on hand to support the cause.
By Jennifer Pfalz
Image by Michael Spencer cropped for size – Flickr License