Shepard High School junior, Anastasia Kladis, has raised nearly $2,000 for Special Olympics Illinois and hopes to keep the amount growing before she takes the plunge at Shepard High School on March 7. (Supplied photos)

Shepard High School junior, Anastasia Kladis, has raised nearly $2,000 for Special Olympics Illinois and hopes to keep the amount growing before she takes the plunge at Shepard High School on March 7. (Supplied photos)

Shepard student to take the Polar Plunge for Special Olympics

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Shepard High School junior, Anastasia Kladis, has raised nearly $2,000 for Special Olympics Illinois and hopes to raise even more.

By Kelly White

One Shepard High School student has been excelling in raising funds for this year’s Polar Plunge.

Anastasia Kladis, a junior from Palos Heights, has raised nearly $2,000 for Special Olympics Illinois and hopes to keep the amount growing before she takes the plunge at school on March 7.

“I have made a decision to help build more inclusive communities in the world, and I am starting right here in Illinois, supporting the more than 21,000 traditional Special Olympics athletes and 9,000 Young Athletes across the state,” Kladis, 16, said. “While I’m getting cold just thinking about it, I’m excited to join the thousands of warm-hearted individuals who will also be taking an icy dip this winter, all in support of these incredible athletes. If you look at it like that, a little cold is worth it, right?”

The Polar Plunge is presented by the Law Enforcement Torch Run, a movement of volunteers dedicated to increasing awareness and funds for Special Olympics.

Shepard’s own Polar Plunge was founded by the high school’s Special Education and POWER PE instructors, Ashley Lythberg and Scott Richardson nearly a decade ago. It has become very popular among student, expanding beyond PE to also include art and culinary courses.

Shepard’s POWER PE stands for Physical Opportunities with Exceptional Rewards. In this program, students apply to work as buddies or mentors for their peers with disabilities in the physical education setting.

Kladis is a part of the POWER PE and enjoys working with students in the program.

This year marks the eighth year Shepard participated in the event and will take place during all POWER PE periods on the Shepard football field where students and staff will dive into large inflatable ice filled pools.

“I like Shepard’s unique version of having it on the football field, because our whole community can attend and cheer each other on,” Kladis said. “Students and staff members can participate. The Power PE buddies get to be on the field and get so excited watching their mentors take the plunge. They can see that we support them and that they are important.  If it were not at Shepard, we would likely not have as much involvement with the organization as we do from the students and staff.”

This is the first year Kladis will be taking the plunge and she could not be more excited.

“The first time I saw the Polar Plunge at Shepard was my freshman year, and as soon as I saw it, I told Mrs. Lythberg that I would definitely be participating junior year when I was eligible,” Kladis said. “My uncle has special needs so this is something very dear to my family and knowing that I can help in some way to support Special Olympics Illinois, makes me happy.”

Since Kladis did not participate last year, she was unsure of how much to set her initial fundraising goal to, so she started with $500.

“I quickly raised that just from immediate family and friends, so I increased my goal to $1,000,” Kladis said. “Through social media, direct emails, and texts, I have surpassed the $1,000 and have increased my goal to $2,500. I have currently raised more than $1,900 and if I get to $2,500, I will increase my goal again to $3,000. I want to raise as much as possible for this amazing organization.”

Donations help to provide athletes with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to participate in Special Olympics programming, including year-round competition, leadership and personal development, as well as heath education. All of this works to allow each athlete to reveal their inner champion.

“One thing I am excited about is that this year Shepard is on track to surpass $100K dollars in fundraising for Special Olympics Illinois since they started this event at the school,” she said. “I am so happy to be a part of such a milestone and to help get them there.”

Those interested in donating to Kladis can visit: https://support.soill.org/fundraiser/5221155.

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