Over 3,200 people, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel, NFL player Israel Idonije, Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon, Olympic free style skier Nick Goepper, and a ten-year-old girl named Lily Schultz participated in the 2014 Polar Plunge in Lake Michigan at Lincoln Park's North Avenue Beach on Sunday, March 2, 2014. They raised just under $1,000,000 for Special Olympics.
The air temperature was ten degrees Fahrenheit. Lake Michigan was thirty-two degrees Fahrenheit.
On July 3, 2013, Mayor Emanuel and Idonije issued a challenge to the children participating in Rahm's Readers, the Chicago Public Library’s Summer Learning Challenge. If they read 2,000,000 books, Mayor Emanuel, Idonije, and Library Commissioner Brian Bannon would jump into Lake Michigan during the annual Chicago Polar Plunge, which benefits the Special Olympics. In the summer of 2012, 60,232 children had participated in Rahm’s Readers summer reading program and had read approximately 1,500,000 books.
Idonije, a Nigerian-Canadian, had played with the Chicago Bears from 2003 to 2012. A few days before he and Mayor Emanuel issued the challenge, he had signed a one-year contract with the Detroit Lions.
“When we set high expectations for our children, we have seen time and again that they can exceed them, and we’re doing that today with a friendly challenge,” said Mayor Emanuel. “If Chicago’s readers finish 2 million books this summer, Israel and I will do the Polar Plunge in Lake Michigan. It gives new meaning to the phrase ‘reading is cool.’”
On August 29, 2013, the Chicago Public Library (C.P.L.) announced that 71,260 children and young teens had read 2,100,000 books as part of Rahm’s Readers. "This result means that Mayor Emanuel, Commissioner Bannon and Library Board member and former Chicago Bear Israel Idonije will be getting wet this winter—they challenged the children of Chicago that if they read more than 2 million books during Rahm’s Readers, the trio would jump in Lake Michigan in March as part of the Polar Plunge benefitting the Special Olympics."
The 2013 program was entitled “Full STEAM Ahead” and focused on Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math skills through programs offered at all seventy-nine CPL locations. Program partners the Museum of Science and Industry, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Goodman Theatre offered programs at the CPL and in their locations, and children were able to earn electronic badges in recognition of engaging in a myriad of activities related to those topics.
“Studies show that children lose up to three months of math and science learning during the summer, so including those areas into an already successful reading program made perfect sense,” said Mayor Emanuel. “The Library and Rahm’s Readers provided children with a safe, fun activity during the long break between school years while also creating a solid educational foundation for their return to studies in the fall.”
In 2013, Rahm’s Readers ran from June 17 through August 10, and was privately funded through the Chicago Public Library Foundation and sponsored by the James and Madeleine McMullan Family Foundation, Cubs Care, Dr. Scholl Foundation, Kraft Foods Foundation, Macy’s Foundation, Motorola Solutions Foundation, Helen M. Harrison Foundation, RR Donnelley, ComEd, RPM Advertising and the Pearson Foundation. It was presented in partnership with the Museum of Science and Industry, the Art Institute of Chicago, Goodman Theatre, Chicago Park District, Chicago Public Schools and the National Summer Learning Association.
Jimmy Fallon accepted Mayor Emanuel's Twitter challenge to join them. Note that Idonije took the Polar Plunge shirtless and Fallon took the Polar Plunge in a business suit. WBBM Newsradio's Steve Miller had a recording of Mayor Emanuel proclaiming "Chicago is officially Jimmy Fallon Tonight Show Land whereas whereby herefore."
Mayor Emanuel also gave Fallon a onesie from the Billie Goat Tavern for his seven-month-old daughter Winnie Rose. Mayor Emanuel said, “So Winnie Rose will always remember Chicago, your little seven-month-old, the Billy Goat. So after you take her out of the bath, and I hope it is a little warmer than today, and always remember us, cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger.”
“Hopefully, I make it back to the Tonight Show unless we are going to do the Tonight Show from Chicago from now on,” joked Fallon.
At 8:23 a.m., Fallon tweeted, "Officially PLUNGED!!!!! Thank you Chicago!!! Thank you Mayor."
Goepper, who won a Bronze Medal for slopestyle skiing at the 2014 Olymnpic Winter Games, commented that Lake Michigan was colder than Sochi had been. He is from Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Goepper took the Polar Plunge wearing his Bronze Medal.
In the 2013 Polar Plunge, 2,800 people participated and raised $900,000 for Special Olympics. Gerri Henegen, one of the original organizers, reported that the first Polar Plunge had just fifty participants.
The Special Olympics Games began in Chicago at Soldier Field back in 1968 and serves thousands of Chicagoans. Chicago Special Olympics operates in the Chicago Park District and Chicago Public Schools from funds raised by the Special Children’s Charities.
Fallon showed off the proclamation on his show Monday night. The text was different from what Mayor Emanuel had said out loud with a jocular air. It read, “BE IT RESOLVED, That we, the Mayor and Members of the City Council of the City of Chicago, assembled this fifth day of March, 2014, do hereby declare March 2014 to be ‘Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon Month in Chicago’…”