Michael “Red” Glenna first took the Polar Plunge in Maple Grove in February 2008. That initial Plunge with The Lookout Bar and Grill team sparked years full of friendship, adventure and belly flops into frozen lakes, all with his signature coffee mug in hand.
Red was an incredible supporter of Special Olympics Minnesota through his involvement with the Polar Plunge. Over the years, he went to every Plunge location at least once, even traveling to Warroad near the Canadian border. From 2011 to 2022 Red participated in the “Super Plunge,” an event where participants raise at least $3,000 for Special Olympics Minnesota and Plunge 24 times in 24 hours.
In total, Red Plunged 325 times and raised over $75,000 on his own to support Special Olympics athletes in Minnesota.
“Red’s inspirational outlook was: Don’t stop yourself because you’re afraid. You can do more if you just let yourself try,” said his wife, Tina.
Red continued to participate in the Polar Plunge for Special Olympics Minnesota, even while battling a rare form of kidney cancer for six years. His 325th and final Polar Plunge was in February 2021. He passed away on July 11, 2022.
“Red was such an awesome dude. I’m getting tears in my eyes just thinking about him,” recalled Mike Kinnan, owner of The Lookout Bar and Grill in Maple Grove. “Whenever you were at a Plunge with him, he’d get people pumped up. He’d jump and then get in line to jump again with the next team. Everyone else is yelling and running to get into the tent as fast as they can, but there was Red going in for round six. It meant so much to everyone.”
Red had a special way of convincing other people to join him in supporting Special Olympics Minnesota.
“He had this infectious energy about him,” said Tina. “Red had a tendency to bring people in and treat them like they’re his best friend.” He got about 40 of his coworkers at Renovation Systems to participate in the Polar Plunge. “The Plunge is often a one-and-done experience for people, but this group came back again and again. They put his face on their t-shirts that they wore at the Maple Grove Polar Plunge this year. When I saw they did that for him, I totally broke down,” said Tina.
“Mike was 6-foot-5, 260 pounds, with super red hair and a beard,” said Jeff Anderson, a coworker from Renovation Systems where Red worked from 2013 to 2021. “He was this imposing figure, but he had the heart of a teddy bear. Real easy to love, really easy to open up to. People would gravitate to Mike so anything he wanted to be involved in–including the Polar Plunge–we knew it would be a good time.”
Red approached Anderson and the CEO of Renovation Systems, Ryan Comer, about doing a Polar Plunge in his second year of working with the company. Before then, they weren’t aware of his involvement with Special Olympics Minnesota and the surprising number of times he jumped in a frozen lake. “We told him we would make a contribution if he wore a Speedo with our logo on it,” remembered Anderson. “Sure enough, he took the Plunge in that Speedo, and we’ve been a part of it ever since.”
At the start of every Polar Plunge, everyone in attendance recites the Special Olympics Athlete Oath: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” Red took this message to heart and was certainly brave in his battle with cancer.
“He never complained, or felt sorry for himself,” said Anderson. “He kept going and he and his wife enjoyed those last years of his life.”
During his six-year battle, he continued to have a close relationship with Special Olympics Minnesota. The Rochester Flyers Special Olympics delegation met Red through the Rochester Plunge. When they heard about his diagnosis, the team raised funds for Red to help support his medical bills.
“It was just so touching that they thought of him and did that for him,” said Tina.
The Super Plunge takes place in Rochester every year. This year, the small group of Super Plungers carried on his legacy and dedicated their first Plunge to Red. They all wore Wisconsin red, and each held his signature coffee mug as they lined up under the big inflatable polar bear. The group hugged, shed tears and smiled right before belly flopping in his honor.
Then, just as Red would have done, they got out and did it all again.
Michael “Red” Glenna was an incredible supporter of Special Olympics Minnesota. We’re so thankful to have been a part of his story and love to see his spirit live on at so many Polar Plunge events. Read Red’s obituary