The annual Polar Plunge raises funds for the Minnesota Special Olympics and has millions of people around the country diving into frigid waters to support the cause. Zumbrota's Randy Vath, a warehouse supervisor at Zumbrota Drivetrain, has taken part the last 12 years, raising more than $60,000. Vath plunges not only for the Special Olympics but for his 14-year-old son, Logan.
How did you first get involved with the polar plunge?
"So 14 years ago, we got pregnant with our first child. We found out that our son, Logan, had a heart defect. And that heart defect is very common in kids with Down Syndrome. We didn't let that bother us. We were more worried about the heart defect. Logan was born March 16, 2007, and he was born with Down Syndrome and a heart defect. We got that fixed. But about a year later, a very good friend of ours also had a son born with Down Syndrome and said, 'Hey, you know, I think this would be really cool if we went and jumped in a lake in the winter.' I'm like, 'Are you kidding me?' And we've been doing it ever since.
"Once I looked into it and after our first year, and realizing what it was for, that it was for the Special Olympics Minnesota, we just became more and more involved with it."
And does Logan now participate in the Minnesota Special Olympics?
"Yes. My son just started in adaptive bowling. One other thing that my son has we kind of found out this recently is he's on the autism spectrum, also. He's very much an introvert. It's hard to get him outside and do stuff, but he really seems to love the adaptive bowling which I know is a Special Olympic program.
"So he's with groups of his peers, which is good, and I think he definitely has a lot more fun with them. If we take him into a crowd of people, he doesn't know he gets very nervous."
AUDIO: Randy Vath on his son's participation in the Minnesota Special Olympics:
Going back 14 years ago when Logan first received those diagnoses, how did that affect the family?
"Honestly it was the best thing that ever happened in our life. I mean, it makes you take things less for granted. You know, live life each day. He's the happiest kid in the world, nothing ever really seems to get him down. We've met so many different families and friends with kids with Down Syndrome and different special needs.
What did it mean to you to see colleagues donate to you during the pandemic and then to have your company match their donations?
"It was actually amazing this year. Just kind of going back a little bit, I was let go of my previous job mostly because of downsizing and in COVID. And then I was able to pick up the job at Zumbrota Drivetrain. I've been here for six months and they jumped right on board with doing it. They broke us up into teams and we raised money. It was huge for me coming into a company and them just supporting it so much. It just means a lot to me."
What's it been like watching the community come together every year to support it?
Every October, November, December comes around and I'm like, 'Man, I don't know if these people are going to give. I keep talking to him every year.' And there are people that actually reach out to me before I even start pushing and saying, 'Are you going to do this again?' because they know what it means to me. It's amazing to see how many people come together every year and companies that come together."
AUDIO: Full clip of Vath's appreciation of the community's support
Now being a super plunger, how does the day shape out doing 24 jumps in 24 hours?
"Every super plunger has to have a handler and usually it's a spouse or a friend that helps just to make sure that you're drinking or eating, and just staying warm, making sure you've got enough change of clothes and stuff like that.
"So what we did this year, we actually did all 24 jumps in about eight hours because of the pandemic. They chose not to have as many spectators. Mostly was just family and friends that could come take pictures and leave. We jumped all of our jumps on Friday. So we started about 2 o'clock. It went to about 10 o'clock. We would do about three jumps in a row.
"After each one, we could thank the donors each time, and then we would come back up into the warming tent, and change clothes, get a bite to eat, get something to drink. And then, about another hour, we would do another three."
Asked & Answered is a weekly question-and-answer column featuring people of southeastern Minnesota. Is there somebody you'd like to see featured? Send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.