Plunging for a Cause - Polar Plunge for Special Olympics

December 2017
Written By: 
Paul Grimshaw

Take an icy dip to raise money for this great organization

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the sister of President John F. Kennedy, was the inspiration for the Special Olympics. From humble beginnings at a camp she founded for children with intellectual disabilities in Potomac, Maryland, in 1962, the Special Olympics would spring to life and take root around the world. An organization that recognizes the benefit of sporting events for special needs children and adults, the Special Olympics struck a chord with law enforcement agencies, many of which make the Special Olympics their chief charitable focus. The Special Olympics and their associated programs and games are now recognized in some 37 countries around the world, as well as here at home.

Marcus Rhodes, an investigator for the Horry County Sheriff’s Office, is the director of the Grand Strand’s Polar Plunge, a Special Olympics fundraiser in which hundreds of participants run en masse into the icy Atlantic Ocean. Plungers enjoyed their inaugural dip in 2006. The 2018 Plunge is scheduled for February 3 on the beach in front of the Sands Ocean Club on Shore Drive.

In addition to The Torch Run, fun runs and other community events, the Polar Plunge has grown to be the largest local fundraiser for the Special Olympics. “We will have probably 100 officers involved this coming year in the Plunge providing public safety and logistics,” said Rhodes. Will Rhodes take a dip himself? “Every year, and I wouldn’t miss it.”

In addition to the Horry County Sheriff’s Office, support and volunteers are provided by the Horry County Police Department, Conway Police Department, Myrtle Beach Police Department, the North Myrtle Beach Department of Public Safety and a variety of service organizations, along with hundreds of volunteers, including James McIlrath, a CPA and partner with Duncan, Farmer, McIlrath, Marlowe, & McLaughlin Public Accountants.

“I am a lifetime plunger,” said McIlrath, who became involved in the Special Olympics some 20-plus years ago when he served as president of the Myrtle Beach Civitan Club. “I didn’t know much about the Special Olympics when I first agreed to help, but we got heavily involved and I absolutely get more out of volunteering than I give. I love working with the athletes. Sometimes volunteers with other organizations feel like they’re being taken advantage of, but that’s never happened with the Special Olympics. The parents, the athletes, everyone is so appreciative, and to see the good it does in their lives is very rewarding.“

The local chapter has sent athletes to the World Games and it’s the funds raised at events like the Polar Plunge that help make that possible.

In 2017 the Polar Plunge raised more than $90,000 and had nearly 700 plungers. “The Plunge has grown into this big event,” continued McIlrath, “and we have bocce ball, tug of war, live music at Ocean Annie’s, food; it’s become a big community happening.”

Typically the ocean water is the 40–50 degree range, but occasionally warmer or colder. “I always tell people they’re welcome to come measure the temperature with me on plunge day and find out for themselves what the water in February feels like,” said Rhodes. “The cold water may not be comfortable, but raising money for the Special Olympics is a heartwarming experience.”


Sands Ocean Club - 9550 Shore Drive, Myrtle Beach, SC 29572
(843) 446-5820,


Photographs courtesy of Polar Plunge for Special Olympics