On Feb. 11, Central Oregonians are waking up, running and plunging in the Deschutes for a cause. Central Oregon's Polar Plunge has been happening for 17 years and is the longest-running organized plunge in the state, according to Britt Gamble, Central Oregon's Polar Plunge and 5K manager.
Benefiting the Special Olympics Oregon, this event helps raise money to provide year-round sports training and competition for Oregon athletes with intellectual disabilities. Central Oregon has its own local chapter, High Desert Special Olympics.
"Through sport, the athletes can gain confidence; they gain friendships, physical fitness and a lot of social competencies in regard to sport," Britt said.
The morning starts off with a 5K race at 10am at Riverbend Park. The course starts there, taking runners along the river and looping back around for the plunge. After the race, around 10:45am, is a costume contest and opening ceremonies before the polar plunge. At 11am, participants will run into the Deschutes River to feel the rush of cold water and show their support, all together. Following the plunge is an awards ceremony to celebrate the fundraising individuals and teams.
"The overall camaraderie of having 300 people in Central Oregon all jumping in the freezing cold water together, in support of those with intellectual disabilities, is a pretty amazing experience," Britt said.
Last year the race included some 250-275 plungers, and this year, over 300 plungers are anticipated to show up, according to Gamble. For those wanting to support but not enter the freezing cold water, there is an option to sign up for just the 5K. For those wanting to get in the water but not run, there is an option to sign up for just the polar plunge. And if people want to support but don't want to face the frigid February temps at all, they are able to donate online.
Racers and plungers can register for the event as an individual or as a team. Either way, each participant can fundraise for SOOR through their own donation page. Central Oregon's fundraising goal is $45,000.
Vendors will be set up at 9:30am. Find your local food trucks, coffee and drinks and mingle and learn about Special Olympics Oregon before and after the events.