Ocoee Police Officer Natalia Ortiz said she wants to make a mark and leave a lasting impact.
At 10 a.m. Feb. 12 at the Aquatica Waterpark, she did just that.
Feb. 12 marked the 12th anniversary of the Special Olympics Orlando Polar Plunge.
Like hundreds of others, Ortiz was plunged into icy water for a good cause.
“It was a great experience to be a part of something as amazing as Polar Plunge,” Ortiz said. “The atmosphere at the event was very warm, fun and welcoming. I enjoyed every part of the contact — from the check-in and the numerous Special Olympic athletes who paved the way to the destination of the plunge. The plunge itself was cold and uncomfortable as expected, but it’s the impact that leaves a lasting mark.”
Polar Plunge is an annual fundraising drive for those “brrrr-ave” enough to take the challenge. Participants or “plungers” raise funds for the Special Olympics Florida by getting wild and plunging into chilly water.
About 200 plungers took on the challenge in teams and individually.
This year’s campaign aimed to raise $153,500. The campaign is currently at $136,913.
Participants and attendees also enjoyed food and drinks, costume contests, live music and more at the event.
The event was especially important this year. This summer, Orlando will host the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games, which occur every four years, with several notable athletes competing from the Central Florida area.
The games will unite more than 5,500 athletes and coaches from all 50 states and the Caribbean, and 125,000 spectators during one of the country’s most cherished sporting events.
Ortiz said the Polar Plunge event was introduced at the annual Law Enforcement Torch Run kickoff event. The LETR is a running event in which officers and athletes carry the Flame of Hope to the Opening Ceremony of local Special Olympics competitions, state and provincial Games, and National Summer or Winter Games.
At the meeting, Special Olympics advertises upcoming events and ways to fundraise for their organization.
“As a team member of the Ocoee Police Department, we want to participate in fundraisers or events that benefit the community such as the Special Olympics,” Ortiz said. “It is our honor to represent the department and express our efforts to the community and the organization.”
Individually, Ortiz said she decided to participate in the fundraising event because it provided opportunities for athletes to empower and transform themselves, their communities and the world.
She said the Special Olympic athletes are finding success, joy and friendship as part of the global community. The fundraisers give athletes the opportunity to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.
The fundraisers also help to alleviate financial burdens on some of the families.
“Whenever you have the pleasure to speak to the athlete, you see joy and enthusiasm in their eyes and excitement like no other, Ortiz said. “This is our ‘why’ of why we continue to provide such fundraisers.”
Ocoee Police Chief Saima Plasencia said the department is invested in the community.
“We get involved and champion those we serve,” she said. “Community Service Officer Ortiz is an integral part of our making those invaluable connections. We could not be more proud of her taking the Polar Plunge to raise money for the Special Olympics and their athletes.”
In addition to the Polar Plunge and LETR, Ortiz started the Tip A Cop event in 2021, where law enforcement officers and department personnel volunteer their time as “Celebrity Waiters” to collect tips at a restaurant, to benefit the Special Olympics when she joined the community affairs division of the department in 2020.
The Ocoee Police Department will next participate in the Tip A Cop event on March 9 at Texas Roadhouse.
The restaurant will donate 10% of each bill to the Special Olympics.
Last year, the Ocoee Police Department raised $1,771 from the event.
This year, Ortiz said the department wants to double the number.
The department and other agencies will then participate in the annual LETR on April 19.
“When Ocoee PD participates in events like this, it brings awareness of the cause to the community and helps others,” Ortiz said. “By participating in these events, it makes a difference to the whole community and the officers and families involved.”
To donate to the Ocoee Police Department’s Tip A Cop event, visit bit.ly/3H14qiJ.