When Paul Arriola and Ian Harkes heard that Steve Birnbaum was ready to take a plunge in support of Special Olympics D.C., they were eager to join. The trio, along with 303 other divers, jumped into a pool of cold water as part of the 2018 Polar Plunge benefiting the District's Special Olympics chapter.
“We’re happy to bring awareness to Special Olympics D.C.,” Birnbaum said. “We partner with them and Major League Soccer through the Unified Soccer League and we’re excited to rep that here.”
The event, which raised approximately $202,000, helps fund Special Olympics D.C.'s spring and summer programs through the purchase of uniforms and adaptive equipment for athletes.
"The participation of D.C. United in the Polar Plunge, as well as other Special Olympics D.C. events throughout the year, exemplifies the true spirit of United's Unified Sports program—athletes with and without intellectual disabilities playing and plunging together as a community,” Executive Director of Special Olympics D.C. Nicole Preston said. “Our athletes are so excited to meet and learn from professional athletes, so it adds an important dimension to their sport experiences.“
This is Birnbaum’s third year taking part in the event, and he brought along his United teammates who were eager to help support the cause.
“For us it’s not just about being professional soccer players, it’s about giving back to the community,” Arriola said. “That’s the most important thing. Any time you can come out and support young people and people who have disabilities but still love to play sports, it’s extremely important to give them our support as peers.”
With the temperature in the low 40s, and with rain coming down, the trio counted to three and hopped into the chilly pool with little hesitation. Though it may not have been the most relaxing swim, they enjoyed showing their support for Special Olympics D.C.
“Being one of the teams in the city means we have to support our fellow athletes,” Harkes said. “As athletes we always try to inspire others, but these Special Olympics athletes are the ones that inspire us."