Police endure icy plunge for Special Olympics fundraiser

March 6, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Kasey Keller, a Special Olympics Washington board member and former Seattle Sounders FC player, emerges from Lake Union at the Polar Plunge on Feb. 11. By Rod Mar/Special Olympics

The temperature in Lake Union held steady at 41 degrees, but the chill did not stop Issaquah police officers and police department employees from a dip on a gray February day.

The police department descended on a stretch of shoreline along the Seattle lake Feb. 11 for the Polar Plunge, a frigid fundraiser for Special Olympics Washington. Combined, Issaquah officers and department employees raised about $1,000 for the nonprofit organization.

Police Communications Specialist Jacqueline Kerness rounded up more colleagues for the February event for the Polar Plunge after she and coworkers dipped into Puget Sound for the 2011 endurance test.

“It was a moment of shock for a good cause,” she said. “It’s something easy to do to raise funds for a lot of people.”

The participants included Chief Paul Ayers — persuaded by Kerness as she set out to convince other police department employees to join the Polar Plunge.

“People like to see people suffering in cold water — and they’ll pay for that,” she said.

Dan Wartelle, Special Olympics Washington vice president of communications, said the Polar Plunge is a key fundraiser for the organization. The experience also enables law enforcement officers to reach out to citizens.

“It gives us an opportunity for us to get out into the community and it gives the community an opportunity to get to know us,” Ayers said.

Participants gathered along Lake Union in 44-degree air to await a chance to slip into the water. Organizers said about 450 people jumped into the lake in shifts of 75 people per round.

“The plunge itself is one second of ‘Oh!’ and then you’re fine. You get out of the water and it doesn’t even seem cold anymore,” Kerness said. “It’s standing outside for 10, 15 minutes in your bathing suit while they’re talking.”

The decision to participate in the 2012 event after joining the Polar Plunge last year meant she had some insight into what to expect. Organizers offered heated tents for participants to change into dry clothes afterward.

“I wore layers this time,” she said. “I learned my lesson.”

Kerness also dyed her hair blue for the occasion, though the result led to some gentle teasing.

“I was going for iceberg, but I got Smurf comments,” she said.

Ayers said the cold air posed more of a challenge than the lake temperature.

“I think I was colder standing around waiting to jump in than I was to jump in,” he said.

Still, he joked, the experience seemed easier than another popular fundraiser. For Tip-a-Cop, officers serve burgers and fries to diners at Red Robin. Tips collected by officers benefited Special Olympics Washington.

“Being a waiter for four hours when you’ve never done that before in your life is tougher than jumping in the water for 20 seconds,” Ayers said.

Kerness intends to corral colleagues to participate in the Polar Plunge next year, water temperature be damned.

“Look for us next year,” she said. “I don’t know what color I’ll be.”

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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