Former B.C. Lions football player Marco Iannuzzi, dressed as Gru from the “Despicable Me” movies, during the third annual Vancouver Polar Plunge for Special Olympics BC at Kitsilano Beach on Saturday, March 3. (submitted photo)

Ex-B.C. Lion Marco Iannuzzi great as ‘Gru’ at Polar Plunge fundraiser

Surrey resident helped Team Dueck raise most money at third annual event in Vancouver

SURREY — Former B.C. Lion Marco Iannuzzi took the “Polar Plunge” again, this time impeccably dressed as a cartoon character from a hit movie series.

With his fundraising team, the retired football player made a splash in the relatively icy waters of Kitsilano Beach last Saturday (March 3) in an effort to raise money and awareness for Special Olympics BC.

Iannuzzi, a South Surrey resident, threw together a “Gru” costume on short notice and entered English Bay with some “Minions” from the Despicable Me films.

For a third year in Vancouver, members of Team Dueck wore costumes for the Polar Plunge, an established Special Olympics fundraiser that sees people get “freezin’ for a reason” at events held across North America.

“We wear something different every year, and this year we were all supposed to be Minions,” Iannuzzi told the Now-Leader. “And then I got a group text with someone saying, ‘Well, who’s going to be Gru?’ This is at around nine o’clock the night before the event. I was, like, I guess I kind of look like Gru, so maybe that’s me. It came together pretty quick. I stole some makeup from my wife, took an old jacket and scarf, my football tights, and there you go.”

In a video shot at the beach, Iannuzzi does a great impression of Gru.

(STORY CONTINUES BELOW)

The third annual event drew more than 200 participants, with 15 teams signed up. More than half of all Polar Plungers were members of the local law-enforcement community.

Iannuzzi and Team Dueck, the top corporate fundraiser, raised more than $25,000, and can boast a three-year total of $57,000.

The grand total raised this year is expected to top the 2017 amount of more than $85,000, with $50,000 collected in online pledges alone.

“When high-profile supporters like Marco stand up as champions of our athletes and our movement, it makes a difference,” stated Dan Howe, president and CEO of Special Olympics British Columbia. “We are fortunate to have Marco and Travis Lulay join so many law-enforcement members in support Special Olympics BC through the Vancouver Polar Plunge. It’s inspiring to see the community come together to have a great time and raise funds and awareness for SOBC.”

Saturday’s Polar Plunge was the second for Iannuzzi.

“Last year I wore my whole football uniform,” he recalled. “It was colder last year. I mean, the water was cold but we had a nice warming tent where we hung out afterward.

“The energy is great,” Iannuzzi added, “with people laughing and people excited, and everyone’s having a good time. But as soon as it gets closer to noon and we run into the water, those smiles are a bit fake – like, ‘Yay, I’m so excited to jump into the water,’ but it’s all good, right. The VPD jumped in before us, and a whole bunch of great people are involved.”

Drafted as the CFL team’s first pick (sixth overall) in 2011, the Harvard-schooled Iannuzzi was a receiver with the Lions for seven years before retiring from the game at the end of last season.

In 18 games during the 2017 season, Iannuzzi caught 34 passes for 425 yards – career-high numbers – but failed to score a touchdown for the second season in a row. He finished his career with eight TDs.

In 2016, he won the league’s Tom Pate Memorial Award, which is given each year to the CFL player who best represents sportsmanship, dedication to the league and community service.

• RELATED STORY: BC Lions’ wide receiver has soft hands, big heart, from December 2016.

Today, the Calgary-raised Iannuzzi works as an investment advisor with RBC, as he did during his football career, and continues to work with a number of local charities.

With another CFL season due to start this spring, Iannuzzi will find himself on the sidelines for the first time as an adult.

”It’s not different right now, because it’s the offseason, but it’ll hit me in June, I’m sure,” he elaborated. “I’m not training nearly as hard right now. I have a little home gym and I feel like the dad bod is coming, so I better start working out here soon,” he said with a laugh.

“But the weight lifted off my shoulders is very evident. My wife says I look really happy, and that’s how I know it was the right time to pull the plug, because I really am happy – with everything I did (on the football field), and I’m happy with what’s ahead of me, too.”



tom.zillich@surreynowleader.com

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Former B.C. Lion player Marco Iannuzzi, dressed as Gru from the “Despicable Me” movies, emerges from the waters of Kitsilano Beach on March 3 on during the third annual Vancouver Polar Plunge for Special Olympics BC. (submitted photo)

Former B.C. Lions football player Marco Iannuzzi, dressed as Gru from the “Despicable Me” movies, with Minion teammates during the third annual Vancouver Polar Plunge for Special Olympics BC at Kitsilano Beach on Saturday, March 3. (submitted photo)

Former B.C. Lions football player Marco Iannuzzi, dressed as Gru from the “Despicable Me” movies, with Minion teammates during the third annual Vancouver Polar Plunge for Special Olympics BC at Kitsilano Beach on Saturday, March 3. (submitted photo)

Former B.C. Lions football player Marco Iannuzzi, dressed as Gru from the “Despicable Me” movies, with Minion teammates during the third annual Vancouver Polar Plunge for Special Olympics BC at Kitsilano Beach on Saturday, March 3. (submitted photo)

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