They dive through frozen waters in Minnesota purple, resurface in shivering blue

Scott “Admiral BigGun” Backstrom prepares to splash into the icy waters of Otter Tail Lake at the Feb. 5 Polar Plunge. Pelican Rapids native Backstrom leads one of the most prolific plunge teams— raising funds for Special Olympics. A sometimes-delusional Minnesota Viking fan, Backstrom led the “Purple Plungers” team at the third annual event. PHOTO COURTESY SHEILA HANSON

A Pelican Rapids Vikings football fan is also one of the volunteers—and top fundraisers—for the Polar Plunge event. 

The icy plunge into Otter Tail Lake completed its third annual event Feb. 5. 

Leading the “Purple Plungers” team to their bone-chilling destination was Scott Backstrom, a Pelican native. His Viking-inspired squad, complete with Minnesota football purple, raised more than $10,000 for Special Olympics. 

“I don’t even like the cold!” laughed Backstrom, who alone collected more than $4,000 in pledges for the Polar Plunge. “My ancestors should have turned left and homesteaded in Florida instead of Minnesota.” 

Born and raised in the Minnesota frozen lake country, Backstrom just isn’t a fan of its temperatures.  

“If a guy like me is willing to join and jump in ice-cold water, anybody can,” said Backstrom. “It shows that the cause means a lot to me. It’s good to get out of your comfort zone now and then while bringing attention to something that is of benefit to others.” 

Otter Tail Sheriff Barry Fitzgibbons is a staunch advocate of Special Olympics, noted Backstrom, who has served on the committee and volunteered with organization and set up for all three years. Many volunteers assist and donate time with the undertaking, including OItter Tail Sheriff’s Dept. staff and deputies, noted Backstrom, who also works for Otter Tail County with technology and communications, including the county’s website. 

The Purple Plunge team includes friends, co-workers, friends of friends, and members of the “Viking World Order,” which is a football fan group. Backstrom is a member and has recruited others for the Plunge. 

“I’m very proud of the committee and every plunger that comes out that continues to make the event a success,” said Backstrom, a 1986 Pelican Rapids High School graduate, who has been with the Otter Tail County staff for 20 years. 

“Purple Plunger” captain Scott “Admiral BigGun” Backstrom takes his dive at the 2022 Polar Plunge on Otter Tail Lake. The Pelican Rapids native single-handedly raised $4,250. Meanwhile, the Purple Plungers team of Viking fans raised $11,106. The 174 plungers at the Feb. 5, 2022 event raised more than $70,000—exceeding this year’s goal of $65,000.

With the county’s Polar Plunge raising funds for the Special Olympics, it is especially gratifying to know that some of those donations, directly and indirectly, aid the very active Pelican-based Special Olympics group, noted Backstrom. 

All funds raised provide year-round training and services to over 8,100 athletes across the state. For example, a $300 donation provides the necessary equipment for an entire young athlete’s season.

 “The Polar Plunge is a great opportunity to unite and educate communities about the Special Olympics…,” said Otter Tail Sheriff Barry Fitzgibbons. “This is an event that can unite different groups, organizations, and law enforcement for a common goal. The money raised gives the athletes the opportunity to participate in several different events, from bowling, basketball, golf, track and field, and many more. The smiles on the faces of the athletes are priceless.”

The Polar Plunge is the biggest fundraiser for Special Olympics Minnesota. All funds raised by Plungers help provide year-round training and services to thousands of athletes with disabilities across the state.

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

Arctic plunging—for a cause

Special Olympics athletes benefit from those who dare to freeze

The Otter Tail County Sheriff’s Office partnered with the Polar Plunge organizers to bring the 3rd Annual Polar Plunge for Special Olympics to Otter Tail Lake. 

The goal to reach $65,000 in donations was exceeded as participants raised $70,401 for Special Olympics athletes. The Polar Plunge is the biggest fundraiser for Special Olympics Minnesota. 

Otter Tail County Sheriff Barry Fitzgibbons kicked off the event with the first plunge of the day and later thanked participants. “Thank you to those that helped plan and set up the event, those that took the plunge, and those that donated to the event. While it was a bit colder this year than the last plunges, the excitement and energy was just as high. I am proud to be associated with such a great event. I look forward to the 2023 Special Olympics Polar Plunge. We are already looking at ways to make it even better.”

Organizers of the event explain the polar plunge as “a series of events where people go to the extreme to support Special Olympics Minnesota.” The weather on Saturday was extreme indeed. The wind was blowing, and the temperatures were barely above zero degrees. Yet over 100 plungers and many volunteers were on the lake ‘freezin’ for a reason’.

“It’s kind of like Minnesota nice meeting Minnesota ice.”

‘Admiral BigGun’ Backstrom

“I absolutely despise the cold, but I think the plunge is a good reminder to get out of my comfort zone once in a while. . . do something positive for someone else’s benefit,” said Scott “Admiral BigGun” Backstrom, a long time Polar Plunger and team captain of the Purple Plungers. “I’m thankful to be able to contribute and I know the athletes truly appreciate the outpouring of support from our community.”

The impact of the donations is felt across the state. Thirty dollars will pay for an 8-week season for a Special Olympian, while $1,250 will send an athlete to the Special Olympics USA Games. 

The Otter Tail County Sheriff’s Office and Otter Tail Lakes Country Association plan to sponsor the 4th annual event next year.