OHS Alum Taking the Plunge to Benefit Special Olympics
Ashley Carter will dive into a freezing cold lake on March 2 to support Special Olympics and her younger sister.
On March 2, Oswego High School alum Ashley Carter will jump into a freezing cold Illinois lake.
And what might compel her to do such a thing?
For the second year, Carter will participate in the Special Olympics Illinois Polar Plunge to raise money for the Special Olympics, a cause very important to her family.
“It’s amazing how big the event has gotten and how many people are out there supporting Special Olympics,” Carter said. She explained that Special Olympics doesn’t just happen one day each year, but that fundraising is required to provide year-round training for the athletes at no cost to their families.
Special Olympics Illinois, "Offers year-round training and competition in 19 sports for more than 21,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities and more than 11,000 young athletes ages 2-7.”
Carter’s younger sister, Melanie, now 24, was diagnosed with autism at an early age. Carter explained that Melanie is considered low-functioning and that she is non-verbal, using sign language and communication devices to communicate with others.
Melanie has participated in Special Olympics, competing in both swimming and track events.
“As a sibling, it’s therapeutic,” Carter said of attending the Special Olympics. “Children and young adults are doing things they were previously told they couldn’t do. There’s such a sense of pride across their faces.”
“Melanie is the most autistic kid you’ll ever see,” said Melanie and Ashley’s mom, Susan Gerardot. Gerardot explained that Melanie was violent and aggressive to the point that their home had no windows and Melanie moved into a residential care center at age 10.
Gerardot said it was “phenomenal” that Melanie was able to participate in Special Olympics.
“Melanie makes up the rules and they are solid as concrete,” Gerardot described. “When the blue M&M was introduced and when Pepsi changed their logo -- that rocked her world.” Gerardot was amazed that Special Olympics helped Melanie overcome a situation with so much stimulus to be able to focus on the competition.
Twenty-one Polar Plunges are scheduled from February 22-March 17 throughout Illinois. There are nearly 5,000 participants of all ages registered to date. Carter participates in the Manteno Plunge with the Easter Seals team. 300 individuals and 46 teams are registered for the Manteno Plunge.
Carter described her reaction to the 2012 Plunge:
“I didn’t really think about how cold it was going to be until I was standing there waiting my turn…Nothing could have prepared me for how painful it is and how much it stings… I had no idea, no warning,” Carter said. “You feel like you are never going to be warm again.”
Despite the painful memory of last year’s plunge, Carter said she’s really excited about participating again, especially since this year’s team has 25 members and she has already exceeded her fundraising goal of $1,000.
Gerardot said she’s very proud of her daughter’s participation in the Polar Plunge.
“She’s a brave, brave girl and has fought so hard to get people to help sponsor her … Ashley will advocate for anyone with disabilities to make sure they get their fair shake,” Gerardot said.
Carter has been a behavior consultant at Easter Seals Autism Therapeutic Day School in Tinley Park since June 2011.
Carter is the third of four sisters. Her two older sisters also work with special needs students.
“It’s the culture of all of us. Special needs children will always touch our hearts,” Carter explained.
An Oswego High School alum, Carter left Oswego in 2011 and now resides in Westchester. Her parents still live in Oswego.
To donate to Ashley Carter’s Polar Plunge, visit her fundraising page.