Cold Columbia River dip helps Special Olympics

Again, see folks ‘take the Columbia River plunge’, in an event that has become an annual February beach party …

It’s Sonny and Cher! Wait! They’re actually Multnomah County Sheriffs Office Sergeant Phil Anderchuk and Sergeant Randy Kendall, about to enter the Costume Competition during the 7th Annual Oregon Law Enforcement Polar Plunge.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

The skies were sunny and the wind was light – unlike last year’s Polar Plunge, once postponed because of an ice storm – but participants in this year’s fundraiser for Special Olympics Oregon on February 28 still found their annual dip in the Columbia River to be quite brisk.

Officially named the “7th Annual Oregon Law Enforcement Polar Plunge”, it brought about 1,600 participants to Broughton Beach – located along the Columbia River, off NE Marine Drive, across from Portland International Airport.

Volunteer Rachael King checks in Kevin White and Elizabeth Roberson-White – two of the many entrants representing the Bridge City Paddling Club.

Sponsors provide food and fun for participants, before the river-dipping begins.

This year’s event started off with attendees and participants are coming to enjoy a “Winter Beach Party” prior to plunging this year, starting at 9:00 a.m., and featuring live music, food, and activities.

“We’re happy to be supporting the 10,000-plus kids, young adults, and adults – all with special needs – through Special Olympics Oregon,” smiled Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Staton, as he watched the festivities.

Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Lt. Steve Alexander spends a contemplative moment with Sheriff Dan Staton, before his icy plunging begins.

Because he was healing from a foot injury, Staton said he wouldn’t be joining the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office team this year – they’re called the MCSO All Stars – but he’d come to give moral support to the hearty group of winter bathers.

“We’ve supported Special Olympics Oregon for a long time,” Staton told East Portland News. “We support their participants and families, and we just love being here for them.”

Clackamas County Sheriffs Office team poses for a team photo at the feet of the giant Polar Plunge bear.

Officials pointed out that, in addition to individuals and clubs, the Portland Police Bureau, Port of Portland Police, Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office, Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Beaverton Police Department, Troutdale Police Department, Portland Fire & Rescue, and the Port of Portland Fire Department, had all entered teams into the event.

During the pre-plunge Costume Competition, contestants line up for judging.

The first of many plunge teams line up, ready to make a big splash.

Here’s how it works: Entrants pay an entry fee to participate, and are encouraged to solicit donations from family and friends to “encourage” them to wade into the 42° water; full immersion isn’t required.

This is the 24th and last plunge, in 24 hours, for the 2015 Super Plungers.

However, an extra-hearty band of participants, known as the “Super Plungers” did pledge to take a brief swim on the hour, every hour, for 24 hours in a row. MCSO Facility Security Officer Jennifer Lindstrand, for example, became a “Super Plunger” by individually collecting more than $3,500 in donations – and then taking 24 “baths” in the river, starting at 11:00 a.m. on Friday, February 27.

In the background, heriff Staton surprises everyone by changing his mind and heading in – and as seen here, out – of the river.

When it came time for the MCSO All Stars to take their dip, Sheriff Staton announced that his crew challenged him to go in. “I wasn’t prepared for this, but I accept the challenge!” he declared as he headed into the cold water.

Again this year, MCSO Rescue Divers, wearing dry-suits, dotted the parameter of the cordoned off “plunge area” along the shoreline, to make sure all participants who went into the water came safely back out again.

One of drivers said the depth of the water is only about chest-high in the dunking area. “The only reason they would be over their head in this water, it’s because they take a dunk on purpose,” the diver said. There were no mishaps during the event.

Another group takes an enthusiastic Polar Plunge – before quickly exiting the chilly water. At the right side of the photo, MCSO Rescue Divers stand by, should they’re needed.

Some groups had a large turn out of participants, such as the Bridge City Paddling Club. That organization that raised $12,500 for the cause – and had so many plungers, officials divided them into three groups.

In total, the 2015 Polar Plunge raised $218,000 for Special Olympics Oregon. To learn more about this organization, see their official website: CLICK HERE.

© 2015 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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