Sheriff Kevin Torgerson ‘all in’ on Polar Plunge, Special Olympics: ‘It touches every point of my life’
The Rochester Polar Plunge celebrated its 22nd plunge Saturday, Feb. 11. Olmsted County Sheriff Kevin Torgerson has planned every one, and he won't be stopping anytime soon.
ROCHESTER — When Olmsted County Sheriff Kevin Torgerson planned the first Polar Plunge in Rochester in 2002, there were no saunas or tents, or a large crowd of spectators at Foster-Arend Park.
The 35 plungers that year jumped in the water, hurried to their towels and hopped in their cars to warm up. Torgerson and KC Reed put the event together in two weeks and raised $660 for Special Olympics.
What really started as a “mano a mano challenge,” as Torgerson put it, has morphed into a huge fundraising event for Special Olympics, with the Rochester plunge consistently raising the second-highest amount of money in one day, behind Minneapolis. The total raised at the plunge Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023, is over $282,000.
In 2002, Torgerson and Reed were at a meeting for the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics. A man who was at the conference from North Carolina suggested doing a Polar Plunge, like his community did.
“These guys were bragging about how they had done one in Duluth and White Bear Lake,” Torgerson said. “And we were like, ‘We can do this.’”
Twenty-two years later, the Rochester plunge is still going strong. More than 950 plungers participated Saturday.
Even more important than the money raised is the connection Torgerson has forged with Special Olympics. He started handing out medals at Special Olympics track and field competitions and “after that, I was done,” Torgerson said.
“They all want to compete. They all want to be like LeBron James, like JJ, and compete and do their best,” he continued. “That’s what Special Olympics offers.
“Say someone competes in three (track and field) events, and they go get a gold medal in their first event. Maybe there’s shot put. They get a bronze, and then they’re doing a 50 meter dash or walk, and they’ll get another gold. You go to put the gold on them, and they're mad at you because they wanted silver. They wanted the full set. It's just competing, but yet they look at it in such a whole different way. It's changed my outlook on life and everything.”
Torgerson has spent 43 years in law enforcement — an accomplishment considering many cops don’t make it to 20 years.
“It’s not that I’ve done anything different,” he said, “but what has kept me really going is this. I love it. I absolutely love it.”
The Polar Plunge, and fundraising for Special Olympics in general, is a family affair for the Torgersons. Torgerson’s wife, Lori, surprised him by plunging to celebrate their 35th anniversary — something she swore she’d never do. And Torgerson’s now daughter-in-law was once a volunteer at the plunge, where she met Torgerson’s son.
“We’re all in,” Torgerson said. “It touches every point of my life.”