What cold? Teams dive into Bay for a good cause

Participants of the Polar Plunge run into the ocean at Crissy Field on Feb. 26 in San Francisco, Calif. More than 600 people participated in the event. Jasmine Beaghler/staff photographer

Despite chilly winds, a man in a giant penguin suit merely shivered before plunging into the frigid San Francisco Bay along with more than 600 others.

The Special Olympics Northern California held its third annual “Polar Plunge” Feb. 26 in which hundreds of individuals and groups collected donations for their cause and jumped into the cold water of the San Francisco Bay. After the massive charge into the water, participants ran, slumped, and staggered their way back up to dry land, shivering in the cold breeze.

This year’s event was at Crissy Field in the Presidio where the beach was lined with approximately 650 registered plungers, along with many spectators.

“It’s a way to get people involved with Special Olympics and fundraising,” said Heather Jones, an employee of SONC. “It gets everyone talking, and people talking with people is one of the most effective ways.”

This year’s turnout was twice as large as last year, according to Jones. With so many individuals running into the water simultaneously, the Coast Guard, as well as the San Francisco police and fire departments, was standing by.

With a minimum donation of $50 per individual, all proceeds of the event went to help raise funds for the Special Olympics.

Jones said the funds go to help more than 14,000 Special Olympics athletes who train year round. By the end of the event, according to the website, donations totaled approximately $200,000.

The San Francisco Polar Plunge is one of seven plunges throughout Northern California, which include upcoming events in Siskiyou County.

Polar Plunge entrants were able to participate as individuals or in teams. As part of the quirk of the event, costumes and funny themes were encouraged for all plungers, which culminated in a costume parade. The organizers will announce the best-costumes winners on the SONC website along with top money-raisers.

Teams like the “Water Warriors” expressed themselves with teal blue shower caps, while “Team ZomBay,” a zombie themed group of several dozen, danced and pretended to eat brains.

Another themed team was made up of members of The Produce Exchange who wore red pepper-shaped hats and dubbed themselves “The Chilly Peppers.” The Produce Exchange is a program that supplies and markets fresh fruits and vegetables; however, many members in the program wanted to also participate in additional causes.

“It’s something we wanted to do for the community,” said Marlene Hokanson, a member of The Produce Exchange. “We love doing something helpful together as a company outside of the office.”

Besides the ability to help Special Olympics and the community, their team also comes back every year because they think it’s fun.

“I like having people gather all together and seeing the variety and the uniqueness of each team,” said Colleen Serlis, another member of The Produce Exchange.

The tie-dye themed students and teachers of Los Cerros Middle School also saw great value in the fundraiser.

“We have got some special needs children who we love dearly, so this is a cause very close to all our hearts,” said Sue O’Reilly, a math and cooking teacher at the school. “My favorite part is the enthusiasm the kids can generate. It’s inspiring.”

The kids on the team, who seemed just as excited as any adult on the field, did their part in collecting donations for their group.  Jenelle Doolittle, 14, raised the most money for her team with $835 and was looking forward to taking the plunge.

“I’m so excited for the cold water,” Doolittle said. “It gets your heart racing and also we’re doing this for other people so that makes it fun.”

At a close second with $650, 13-year-old Alyssa Gonzales said the choice to plunge was an easy one.

“I felt like it was a good cause to work for, so why not help?” Gonzales said.

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