Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

February 28, 2013

Neoga girl taking the plunge

Bill Grimes
Effingham Daily News

NEOGA — It's probably going to be a little nippy at the Lake Sara beach, but the fifth-grader at Neoga Middle School will not be deterred from her goal of raising money for the Neoga Special Olympics program.

Reagan, the reigning state Special Olympics champion in shotput, will join the Neoga Tiptoers at the annual Polar Plunge. The Plunge is set for noon Saturday at Lake Sara beach on the north shore of the lake.

Reagan, who has already raised more than $1,400 for Neoga Special Olympics, would like to raise at least $2,000 for the program so dear to her heart. Those wishing to donate can do so online at www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/ReaganBrown/2013-polar-plunge-effingham#.USx2sdmVzQA.email.

"If we don't have the money for Special Olympics, we can't do it," she said. "We have to buy a bunch of new uniforms for a bunch of new people."

Reagan was born without a portion of a chromosome that affects development. Though she is mainstreamed in a number of school subjects, mom Judy said she wasn't comfortable participating in sports with general education students. Judy added that she wasn't sure her daughter would even like Special Olympics.

"The first year, I was hesitant to let her participate because I wasn't sure she would be comfortable,' Judy said.

Not only is Reagan comfortable, but she has thrived in both the 800 meter run and shotput. She's a two-time state qualifier in both events, winning the shotput last year.

Reagan said her favorite part of competing is "when I win a medal."

Judy said Special Olympics has helped Reagan develop in more tangible ways.

"When she goes to a Special Olympics event, she feels like she belongs," Judy said. "Special Olympics gives her a chance to be in the spotlight."

Reagan has already participated in one charity event, the annual Special Olympics Torch Run, under brutally hot conditions last summer.

"Reagan said if she could run in the heat, she could handle the cold," Judy said.

Neoga Special Olympics coach Amanda Osborn asked Reagan if she wanted to participate in the Polar Plunge.

"I approached Reagan and her mother about it, and she ran with it," Osborn said. "She's very self-motivated."

Reagan is the only Special Olympian on her team. Judy said she's going to have fun watching some of the grown men on the team react to the cold weather.

"I'm looking forward to seeing some of those big guys squeal in the water," she said. "When we started out, we thought Reagan would just tiptoe in, but once the guys signed up, we thought we would make a bigger splash than originally intended."

Bill Grimes can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 132, or at bill.grimes@effinghamdailynews.com