For the 20th consecutive year on Saturday, Kyler Morrison will jump into an icy Whitefish Lake for a cause that means a great deal to him.
Morrison is participating in the annual Penguin Plunge, which raises money for Montana Special Olympics. He completed his first jump at the age of 12.
“You don’t think about the water, you think about the cause,” Morrison said last week. “Getting out is worse anyway. Once you get the ice out of your mind you’re OK.”
The annual event takes place in conjunction with the Whitefish Winter Carnival with folks raising funds individually or with a team by jumping into the lake. There are about a dozen similar events held around the state each winter to support more than 2,400 Special Olympics Montana athletes.
The Whitefish event begins at 11 a.m. on Saturday at City Beach.
Morrison, who is a Special Olympics athlete — having participated in bowling, skiing, snowshoeing, basketball, power lifting, golf and track — began his first experience with Special Olympics by participating in the Penguin Plunge.
This year he has raised almost $2,000, and is only $500 short of making his goal. He has been the top fundraiser six times and one year organized a team that raised the highest dollar total for the plunge.
Some years, he jumps with a team and other years he makes the leap solo, to him all that matters is supporting Special Olympics.
His father Kent Morrison says he’s been Kyler’s “privileged towel holder” for 20 years, and also serves as a team leader for the Whitefish Thunder team.
“Special Olympics provides a place for athletes to compete with their peer group in events and activities that fit their capacity,” Kent said.
Morrison enjoys the opportunity to participate in athletics and seeing others do so as well.
“It gives me confidence to do stuff like be around other people and be in big groups,” he said.
He’s given much more of his time to Special Olympics beyond participating in the Penguin Plunge.
After graduating from high school, Morrison served on the state board for Special Olympics in an athlete board member position.
Subsequently, he served at an international conference in Morocco in 2010, focusing on developing a strategic plan to advance Special Olympics globally. He was one of 66 athletes worldwide selected to serve on the committee.
Morrison was instrumental in working with the Whitefish Rotary club in 2011 to establish the Whitefish Thunder, Whitefish’s first Special Olympics adult team. Previously, adult athletes had to either give up Special Olympics or find a ride to Kalispell for practices with the Krushers adult team to participate.
Morrison, along with assistance from his father, in 2011 worked to get a resolution passed in the Montana Legislature recognizing the second week in May as the Montanans with Developmental Disability Week.
For Morrison, it’s important he also provide a message about those with developmental disabilities.
“We live with disabilities and we don’t get a break or a vacation,” he said. “We all have weaknesses and strengths just like anyone else.”
To donate to the Penguin Plunge through Morrison, visit https://www.classy.org/fundraiser/2553153