Police officers, friends, family and community members took the Polar Plunge into ice-cold water at TD Place recently, raising a local record $34,956 for Special Olympics Ontario.

Sporting teal blue branded T-shirts, the plungers lined up for their dip with their grimaces displayed on a nearby jumbo screen as they emerged from the icy water.

Ottawa Police Service Chief Eric Stubbs delighted the crowd by being first to leap into the water.

“I’m not sure if a chief has ever participated before,” said event planner Sgt. Megan Arbuthnot. “We really appreciate that sort of leading from the front.”

After his dip, the chief put on a brave face and cheered on the rest of the participants.

“Deputy Chief (Patricia) Ferguson encouraged me to jump but she said if I did they’ll make it warm water, so no worries jumpers it’s gonna be nice and warm,” Stubbs laughed.

Tri-athlete Michael Meehan stole the show when he took the stage to express his gratitude. He is a three-time cancer survivor and leader of Michael Meehan’s Minions, a group of family and friends who, along with OPS Brothers and Sisters, have raised more than $163,000 for pediatric oncology.

Meehan received roars of applause and laughter from the crowd while he couldn’t contain his excitement. “I love it, it’s amazing,” shouted Meehan.

To kick off the plunges, Meehan led the crowd through the Special Olympics Athletes oath.

“Let me win but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt,” said Meehan. “Let’s go!”

“I really value being able to break down barriers and just seeing the impact with the athletes,” said Sgt. Arbuthnot.

The make-shift ice bath was an industrial garbage bin lined with plastic wrap and filled with freezing water, so cold that steam rose off the water in the above-freezing air.

Two Ottawa police divers dressed in full dive equipment stepped into the ice bath first to be on hand to assist the participants and remained in the freezing water until the last participant emerged.

The evening began with a brief concert from GleeCeptional, an Ottawa-based singing group for “individuals with exceptionalities.” All nine performers riled up the crowd with their songs and energy.

GleeCeptional kept the crowd warm during the Polar Plunge in Ottawa. [Photo @ Claire Hutcheon]

“I was so grateful that they could come out, when we have events like this bringing out the actual athletes is really impactful on the participants and those who raised donations,” said Arbuthnot.

A group of lifeguards from the Nepean Sportsplex also joined the procession.

“Ten of us are going into the water,” said Sophie Pellerin, one of the lifeguards. “We’ve never done anything like this but it’s for a good cause so it’ll be fun.”

This year, Ottawa recorded the most participants ever with 188 plungers.

Abby Flipson, Valerie House and Sophie Pellerin were are the ready during the 2024 Polar Plunge. [Photo @ Claire Hutcheon]

“We really appreciated that a lot more community members came out, it’s certainly not just a law enforcement thing,” said Arbuthnot.

The Ottawa sector raised $34,956 this year with 826 donors; $11,000 more than the previous year and the most ever.

All of the proceeds raised in Ottawa will be used within the city and go directly to the athletes and families of Special Olympics Ontario.

“There are a lot of families who have told us that without the fundraising, they would never be able to be involved, and that is the most important part,” said Arbuthnot.

Special Olympics Ontario is a non-profit dedicated to bringing people together and promoting respect, acceptance and inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities through sports.

Arbuthnot says the OPS are already looking ahead to next year and working on growing the event even more.

“There are other services approximately our size that are raising close to $50,000,” said Arbuthnot. “We’re just hoping that the positive trajectory continues and more people keep coming out.”