When Leonka Kaluha jumps into the frigidly cold waters of Calgary’s Arbour Lake this weekend at the city’s annual Polar Plunge, it will mark her eighth time participating.
Kaluha, a Special Olympics athlete herself, says she understands firsthand the difference sports programs can make in someone’s life.
Leonka has earned medals in various sports programs including floor hockey, track and field and soccer.
“I like taking on new risks and learning new things,” Leonka said, adding the reward has always been worth the challenge.
“All through school I was bullied that my self-esteem was dropped big time,” Leonka explained. “But soon as I joined Special Olympics and made new friends, I wasn’t judged and it didn’t matter that I had a disability.”
From the sidelines, the transformation was clear to Leonka’s biggest cheerleader, long-time friend Marilyn Ritchie.
“I’m really proud of her, there’s not a lot of people who would do this year after year.” Ritchie said.
“She used to walk with her head down, and she used to often say that she hated herself. Through Special Olympics, she’s learned to love herself.”
Leonka alone has raised $15,000 in the last seven years through her participation in the Polar Plunge.
A portion of the funds raised will benefit 3,300 Special Olympic Athletes.
The public can donate pledges at specialolympics.ca/albertapolarplunge.
Registration for the event begins on Saturday at 10 a.m., followed by the opening ceremonies at 11 a.m.