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Long-time Volunteer, Patrice Schermerhorn, Plunges in Antarctica for Special Olympics

Schermerhorn encourages others to take part in their local Polar Plunge

Patrice Schermerhorn didn’t jump into the freezing waters just off the coast of Antarctica for fun, but rather to raise money for Special Olympics Tennessee.

Schermerhorn, originally from Moscow, Idaho, now resides in Chattanooga, TN. Her day job has her employed as an investigator at the Hamilton County Medical Examiner's Office, but she also works as an EMT instructor at Chattanooga State Community College. When she is not at work, however, she is likely to support Special Olympics Tennessee (SOTN) in any way she can.

“I started [with] Special Olympics back in 1986,” said Schermerhorn. “My neighbor down the street has Down Syndrome and she started participating in Special Olympics and so I started volunteering with her during the competitions”

That start began up north in Idaho, but her passion for Special Olympics followed her during her move to Tennessee.

“I was in law enforcement and got involved with the torch run,” said Schermerhorn. “Then I started volunteering with Special Olympics here.”

Schermerhorn’s role with SOTN has taken many forms, not the least of which is the annual Polar Plunge. In her time with the organization, she has participated in at least ten plunges. It seems, though, that the Tennessee water wasn’t quite cold enough for her.

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“[My mom and I] went on a cruise to Antarctica in December, and while we were there, the cruise line had an opportunity for people to do a polar plunge,” said Schermerhorn. “I started to think and I was like, ‘How can I tag team this?’ and so I got ahold of Jennifer McAfee (Law Enforcement Torch Run Director) and I said, ‘Hey, post something and see if you can have people challenge me to do the polar plunge in Antarctica’, and we raised over $500 for Special Olympics.”

Even with water temperatures nearing zero degrees Celsius, Schermerhorn is certain she would do it again given the chance.

Schermerhorn’s passion for the organization is evident in her decades of volunteer work. The root of this passion, though, is the athletes.

“The athletes are such an inspiration,” said Schermerhorn, “[They] are nothing but a ray of sunshine, always great attitudes, always willing to try.”

She believes the community can learn from the attitudes of these participants, enjoying where they are rather than expecting to be number one. Schermerhorn has had her fair share of experiences to be grateful for as well.

At the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando, FL, Schermerhorn found herself supporting Team Tennessee. During the games, Schermerhorn acted as a medic for the team, marking the first time SOTN was able to take a medic with them, and the first time Schermerhorn had gotten to attend the USA Games in her decades of volunteering.

Schermerhorn encourages the whole community to find ways to get involved with SOTN. One option, of course, is the annual Polar Plunge, with events happening across the state now.

“You jump in, and you can get right back out,” said Schermerhorn. “When you first jump in, you’re like ‘oh it's cold’ but then you get out and it’s really not that bad.”

Don’t just take Schermerhorn’s word for it though, take the 25 EMT students she has gotten involved in Polar Plunge as an example. Each year she offers extra credit to students willing to participate in the fundraiser, with several continuing to attend even after graduating from her class.

Schermerhorn encourages everyone to take part in Polar Plunge at least once because “you don't know until you try it”.

Join Special Olympics Tennessee and hundreds of other brave souls across the state for the coolest thing you'll do in 2023. Whether you jump, run, or tiptoe in you'll be helping us build a bigger, better and COOLER community for 17,000+ Special Olympics athletes.

Find your local polar plunge here.

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