LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) -

Hundreds of locals are preparing to jump into the icy cold Mississippi River on Saturday afternoon to raise money for the Special Olympics and one athlete in particular is headed to Nationals in June.

Local Special Olympics athlete Michelle Drendel has been participating for more than 20 years and is finally on her way to Nationals in New Jersey.

“It’s my first time going. Kind of scared. Away from home for quite a while,” said Drendel.

However, being the accomplished athlete that she is, she isn’t going to let a few nerves stand in her way.

“I’ve been working hard and practicing,” said Drendel.

Drendel hits the gym two times a week to prepare for her upcoming gymnastic events.

“Bars, balance beam, vault and floor,” said Drendel.

Special Olympics gymnastic coach Melissa Scalf said this isn’t Drendel’s first major competition.

“Last year at state she won first, second and third in different areas; she went through an application process and got chosen to go to Nationals through that,” said Scalf.

Scalf said it couldn’t have happened to a better athlete and friend.

“She has worked so hard to get to where she’s at right now,” said Scalf. “It’s a huge honor, we’re so proud of her.”

Scalf isn’t the only one cheering Michelle on as she heads to Nationals; she’s got the entire team rooting for her.

“As you can see everybody here knows one another, their very friendly with each other and they enjoy hanging out,” said Scalf. “It’s more than gymnastics; it’s more of a family.”

Although Drendel has a lot to look forward to, she appreciates everyone who has had her back the whole time.

“I thank my coaches for helping me and all the volunteers,” said Drendel.

Drendel is one of nearly 3,500 athletes competing nationwide at the Special Olympics from June 14 through June 21.

If you are heading out to Pettibone Beach on Saturday for the 16th annual Polar Plunge, there are a few things that you need to bring with you:

  • Registration form—you only need this if you did not register for the event online.
  • Cash and check donations
  • Signed liability waiver-- Organizers will have liability forms that adults can sign the day of the event, if you are under the age of 18 your guardian must sign one.

Participants can register and check in Saturday morning starting around 8 a.m. Participants will start plunging into the icy cold Mississippi River around noon. Click here for a list of all the events.