For most Special Olympics supporters brave enough to take the Polar Plunge, one icy jump is more than enough. Not for Holland Christian Staff member, Ty Van Wieren. The high school paraprofessional has committed his personal and professional life to promote the message of his inclusion. It was his students that inspired Van Wieren to plunge five times, one in honor of each student unable to take the dive themselves.
"For me to represent them and honor them, means the world to me," Van Weiren said, still shivering from the cold water. "The Polar Plunge is great. We are raising money for Special Olympics. We are doing it for a cause. But for me to represent them, for me to honor them, means the world to me. I am happy to give them a little bit of joy to experience today." Van Wieren worked alongside each of his give students to choose a costume that represented them. His classroom - and much of the student body - cheering the para-pro on as he held up a sign in honor of each athlete as he hovered on the platform above the pool outside the school.
"The first jump, I just went for it," Van Wieren said, dressed in traditional Dutch garments, representing Holland's culture. "I wanted to just get it out of the way. When you hit the water, the cold shock just hits you. The more I did it, the better it got."
Holland Christian was named a Unified Champion School last year, meeting 10 standards of excellence determined by Special Olympics International. As head coach of the Holland Christian Unified Soccer team, Van Wieren and his students earned their place on the Team Michigan Delegation for the 2022 USA Games in Orlando, Florida at a high stakes shootout in Grand Rapids.
"Inclusion means to me that kids get to experience things that every kid gets to," Van Wieren said. "I look here at Holland Christian, our students are part of the student body. They are not separated from anyone. It's relationships with everybody, it's eating at the same table at lunch. That's who we were made to be."
The Holland Christian Cool Schools Polar Plunge raised nearly $15,000 dollars for Special Olympics Michigan. Part of the funding will send the Unified Soccer Team to Orlando this summer.
"It reminds me of why I do this and why I love to be here every day," Van Wieren reflected. "To experience life with them, that's what it's all about."
Van Wieren will have to wait a little longer before he heads to Disney Land with his students as part of the experience for the 2022 USA Games. However, after five back-to-back Polar Plunges, we wanted to know what was next. Ty's response "I am going to the hot tub!"