The screaming started even before bodies hit the 41-degree water. Just the thought of flopping into Lake Union was that painful.
On Saturday, South Lake Union was filled with high-pitched shrieks and all-out wails as 600 brave souls ran up to the lake’s edge and dunked themselves into the bone-chilling waters – all in the name of giving.
The Polar Plunge event was put on by Special Olympics Washington to raise money and awareness for the organization and its athletes. It was the group’s fifth annual plunge in Seattle, but the first time it has been held in South Lake Union.
Marching over the footbridge at South Lake Union Park, plungers were decked out in funny outfits that embraced the absurdity of what they were about to do. From swashbucklers to Hawaiian dancers to a human cupcake, the costumed participants waited anxiously for their big – that is to say, cold – moment.
Grins quickly turned to looks of dread and trepidation as they watched peers ahead of them take the chilly plunge.
As plungers emerged from the water with bluish lips, they hollered the same sentiments:
It’s like getting stabbed with a knife a thousand times.
Can’t talk. Face hurts.
What was I thinking?!
“Everything in the body just stops,” one plunger said, teeth chattering. “But then it gets kind of warm. Is this start of hypothermia?”
Kathy Biederman raised $500 in donations after promising to take her Chihuahua dog, Max, along with her for the plunge. “Oh it’s cold,” she said, clutching Max under her arm. “If they said it was warm, they lied.” The local special education teacher’s 27-year-old son participates in Special Olympics.
“It’s just such a worthy cause and, as a family, it impacts us directly,” she said.
Steve Wright, who works for Special Olympics Washington, waited with a hot pink towel across his shoulders. His strategy? “Go in as fast as I can,” he said. “And then get out as fast as I can.”
He told people at work that if they bought enough Girl Scout cookies, he would plunge. He sold 37 boxes.
Mary Do, Development Director for Special Olympics Washington, said the plunge event isn’t for the faint of heart. “It takes your breath away,” she said.
Special Olympics Washington held past plunges at Magnuson Park and Alki Beach Park, but was looking to grow it out, Do said.
“We wanted to make it a marquee event on the west side of the mountains,” said Do. “South Lake Union is beautiful, and so many of our supporters are here. We thought, ‘Why not bring it smack dab in the middle of Seattle?’”
Last year, the event had about 300 participants and raised around $45,000. This year, the event drew double the number of plungers and raised $120,000.
The money raised from the event will go to help more than 10,000 Special Olympics athletes who compete year round in Washington. Special Olympics Washington covers all the costs for an athlete, from training and equipment to medals and meals.
For more information on Special Olympics Washington, visit: http://www.specialolympicswashington.org/