Frosty fun had at ‘Polar Plunge’

Take a look, and you’ll see hundreds of otherwise normal people head to Broughton Beach, to take an icy dip in the Columbia River – and discover why they do it …

This Polar Plunge participant’s facial expression says it all! Columbia River water, in outer East Portland, is chilly this time of year.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

In wave after wave, otherwise sensible adults, and a few kids, rushed from Broughton Beach – across from Portland International Airport, along NE Marine Drive – and jumped into the frigid Columbia River, on the morning of February 25.

Many of the “plungers” were wearing matching, colorful but not-very-warm looking costumes, and participated in a costume contest about 30 minutes before the river dipping began.

These two “Super Plungers”, Greg Pickering of the Tualatin Police Department and Richard Hathaway representing the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, head back to their warming tent after an hourly splash in the river..

24 hours before the main event, a hearty group of “Super Plungers” – each of them raising at least $3,000 – took their first of 24, hourly, icy dips into the river, before retreating to a heated shelter erected at the beach.

At 11:00 a.m. that morning the “Super Plungers” took their last plunge, followed by dozens of teams, dispatched in groups.

The first group of teams take the Polar Plunge ...

… and briskly head back to shore.

Cheering on participants about to “take the plunge” is Special Olympics Oregon Director of Communications Chad Carter.

“This year, the Portland Polar Plunge – sponsored by the Law Enforcement Torch Run, benefiting Special Olympics of Oregon – has brought out more than 1,500 people who are brave and crazy enough to jump into the freezing Columbia River,” smiled Special Olympics Oregon Director of Communications Chad Carter, as participates hollered, yelped, and shivered during and after their brief swim.

“They’re doing it for a wonderful cause, which is supporting 13,000 Special Olympics Oregon participants throughout the state,” Carter told East Portland News.

This Port of Portland Fire Department rescue diver says the water temperature is 41°.

“From what I’m hearing, the water is really cold; but they’re saying they’re having a great time here,” Carter said. “We’ve had more plungers than any year before, with some people when do multiple plunge pledges this year with different teams.”

Going into the plunge they’d raised $210,000. “We have many people show up and register on-site, and decide at the last minute to put down their $50, which will increase that total,” Carter observed.

And this year, the 19 Super Plungers together raised a total of $71,000, which is a new record for this category, he said.

Volunteers Gwen Foley, Ashlyn Macho, and Emma Macho sell souvenir towels and T-shirts.

Special Olympics Oregon supports 30 programs around the state, Carter explained. “The money we raise today, and through our other pledges, will go to support them and their sporting events, including travel, uniforms, meals, lodging wherever they go, so they don’t have to pay anything.”

What their organization does goes far beyond creating specialized sporting events, Carter remarked. “Our slogan is ‘Training for life’, because through their endeavors, our participants learn skills that they can take with them in their personal lives.

“This includes learning social skills, understanding what it’s like to be on a schedule and to be part of a team, and to show up to practice on time – much like members of high school teams,” Carter elucidated. “But here they get to be together, and learn and train for life.”

Members of the “Timbers’ Army” rush in to take the plunge.

These “plungers” look wide awake – no coffee needed! – as they take their dip in the river.

While the event had several commercial sponsors, the annual “Polar Plunge” is a fundraiser for the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympic Oregon’s participants, including Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, Portland Police Bureau, Port of Portland Police Department, Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office, Oregon Air National Guard, Portland Fire & Rescue, and Port of Portland Fire Department.

Find out more about Special Olympic Oregon at their official website: CLICK HERE.

© 2017 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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