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Plunging for a cause.

Byline: Mark Baker The Register-Guard

Oh. My. God.

Brain freeze.

I can't breathe.

I can't feel my body.

No, no, no - this is sooo cold.

Or how about this one?

If somebody finds my toenail, let me know.

Those are just a few of the comments made by the 250 or so folks who braved the winter waters of the Willamette River on Saturday morning in Maurie Jacobs Park during the annual Oregon Law Enforcement Polar Plunge for Special Olympics.

The temperature was in the mid-40s when the plunge began at 11 a.m.

"Cold," said Eugene Police Chief Pete Kerns as he walked out of the water with other members of his team, the Blue Copsicles.

Kerns has been through this before, though. He, along with former University of Oregon football star Joey Harrington (complete with a colorful floatation tube around his waist), participated in the first local Polar Plunge in February 2010.

The annual fundraiser for Special Olympics Oregon is organized by law enforcement agencies across the state.

Besides the Eugene and Springfield police departments, the Lane County Sheriff's dive and search and rescue teams were on hand Saturday, as usual, to make sure there was no broken glass on the riverbed and no one got outside the cordoned off plunge area.

Five Oregon cities are hosting plunges this month, with thousands willing to leap (or just walk) into chilly waters.

Participants must raise a minimum of $50 in pledges.

Saturday's local plunge set a record with more than $28,000 raised, said Emily Ressegger, a district manager for Starbucks in Eugene and manager of this year's local plunge.

"It's the athletes, honestly," Ressegger said Saturday of what this tradition is all about. "Just being able to support them."

The first Polar Plunge took place in 2007 in Bend, when Central Oregon Law Enforcement and Special Olympics Oregon teamed up and participants jumped into the Deschutes River.

Last year, more than $400,000 was raised statewide for Special Olympics Oregon, according toplungeoregon.com.

Dressing in costumes always has been part of the fun.

On Saturday, there were 30 teams of folks at the Eugene plunge. They dressed in everything from Superman and Batman outfits to a man in a purple sombrero to a guy dressed as an eagle.

There were students in purple South Eugene High School T-shirts and red-and-black Thurston High School T-shirts, and a team from Sy's Pizza in Eugene, dressed in yellow T-shirts with green lettering that said, "Sy's Matters."

And there was Michael Knight, of Eugene, dressed in ...

"The message is the rainbow - all people," said Knight, a direct support professional at the Oregon Supported Living Program in Eugene, a nonprofit organization that provides services for people with developmental disabilities.

Knight took the award for best individual costume in judging that took place before everyone took the plunge. His thrown-together-at-the-last-minute ensemble consisted of a rainbow-colored wig, sunglasses, purple OSLP T-shirt, green tutu, knee-length red pants and navy blue-and-gold socks.

"I just wanted to be bold and have a good presence and something that was fun," Knight said as he got out of the water.

"Uh, chilly," he said of the temperature.

Knight said he raised $135 in a week, but his goal next year is $1,000.

"I see the benefits of people participating; what it means to win, and what it means to accept loss," Knight said. "A sense of belonging and community inclusion."

Scott Bush and David Smid, part of the Re/Max Integrity real estate team, were among the first to go in the water shirtless.

"A little bit chilly," said Bush, 37.

While Smid was wet up to his neck, Bush was bone-try from the waist up.

"He's braver than I am," Bush joked.

"Good. Nice," Smid said. "I feel warm now. Once you get out of the cold water ..."

While Knight won best individual costume, the Cottage Grove Cupids took best team costumes.

The group that represents people with developmental disabilities in Cottage Grove and Creswell wore all pink outfits with pink and red ribbons in their hair.

It is Valentine's Day weekend, after all.

It was the team's sixth straight appearance at the plunge, team manager Carmen Dowell said.

"The secret of Polar Plunge is, you go in with an athlete who, as soon as they get their knees wet, they need out of the water immediately," Dowell said with a laugh.

Dowell walks hand-in-hand into the water each year with Special Olympian Jill Vaverka of Cottage Grove.

"It's cold," said Dowell, who brought along daughter Breanna, 17, and her boyfriend, Taylor Hollowell, 18, and son Dylan, 14. "It's very cold. But it's quick."

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkBakerRG. Address emails to mark.baker@registerguard.com.
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Title Annotation:Law Enforcement
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Geographic Code:1U9OR
Date:Feb 14, 2016
Words:788
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