OCEANSIDE — Two hundred people jumped into the cold Pacific for the Polar Plunge on Feb. 19. Swim teams, Special Olympics athletes and supporters braved the chilly 57-degree water to raise money for the Special Olympics.
Many participants show up year after year. “Athletes come back time and time again,” Teresa Contreras, regional manager of volunteers and the law enforcement torch run, said.
Some wade in, others dive under. The only rule is to have fun. “Anywhere from get your feet wet, to go all the way in, it’s your choice,” Contreras said. “Whatever they feel comfortable with works for us.”
“We do this to show CSEA gets out there to have something for our kids,” Ted Chavez, member of the California School Employees Association Chapter 370, said.
Navy surgical technicians and nurses, college professors and Oceanside and Carlsbad police were among the participants who took the plunge.
“Law enforcement are big supporters of Special Olympic events,” James Henderson, chair of the criminal justice department at the University of Phoenix Southern California Campus, said. “I have a special needs daughter, so I have a personal passion. I’m glad my employer is a big giver.”
The tradition has taken place at the Oceanside Pier for five years and is practiced nationwide to raise funds for the Special Olympics.
Individuals are encouraged to raise $50 or more for the cause. “All of our programs are free to all athletes,” Contreras said. “Without fundraisers, we can’t have them.”
“This has always had a special place in my heart,” Steve Atkinson, event emcee and 10 News anchor, said. “In different cities, in different jobs, I’ve always supported the Special Olympics. It’s a wonderful, wonderful cause.”
The plunge was rained out last year for the first time. Strong winds and ocean currents made it unsafe for swimmers to go out in the water. Some supporters showed up to turn in their donations and collect their event T-shirts.
This year participants were encouraged to come out and show their support rain or shine.
A 90 percent chance of rain was predicted, but skies stayed clear past the 9:30 a.m. plunge. By 10:30 a.m. it was a downpour. The silent auction and awards ceremony for best costume and most money raised wrapped up and participants were encouraged to continue the fundraising efforts at Joe’s Crab Shack where a portion of the day’s proceeds was donated to the Special Olympics.
Participants who jumped in for the plunge raised an estimated $14,000. Another $6,000 was expected to be raised by the day’s silent auction and follow up fundraiser at Joe’s Crab Shack.
The Torch Run is another fundraiser for the Special Olympics, which is held in June. More than 60 different government agencies raise funds and send runners to carry the Special Olympics torch from Chula Vista to Orange County in the two-day fundraiser event.