Cold water, warm hearts
Air and water temperatures just above freezing brought shivers to hundreds throughout Southern Oregon’s community, but their reasons were anything but cold-hearted.
Roughly 300 folks — many in costumes, swim trunks or matching T-shirts — plunged into the Jackson Aquatic Center pool Saturday morning for the 10th annual Polar Plunge for Special Olympics Oregon. The 31 teams that dived in helped raise about $40,000, according to event manager Kim Andresen.
Nine of those 31 teams had never jumped before, according to Andresen. Each jumper raised a minimum of $50 for the Special Olympics chapter.
Among individual first-timers was Eagle Point High School math teacher Sunshine Perry, who along with science teacher Amanda Elliott wore costumes picked by students consisting of a Hawaiian shirts, khaki trench coats and fedoras.
“I actually didn’t know I was jumping until yesterday,” Perry said with a brave face.
Wearing colorful unicorn horns and tutus, the Yox family jumped together as the Southern Oregon Narwahls swim team.
Each member of the family plays a role supporting Kylie Yox’s swimming. Kylie’s mom, Meredith, is “the coach” and her younger sister Sydney is “the cheerleader.”
“And I’m the driver,” Scott Yox said.
Andresen said the event also brought the return of Josephine County’s Sheriff’s Office and Grants Pass police for the first time in several years. Grants Pass’ new Director of Public Safety Warren Hensman was among the plungers.
The Southern Oregon Special Olympics chapter serves Jackson, Josephine and Klamath counties, Andresen said. Klamath County participants, however, often hold their own above-ground plunge because roads are treacherous to the Medford event.
Also new this year was Southern Oregon University’s steel drum band Maraval Road, which added drumroll and some Caribbean fun to the polar poolside.
Experienced plungers said there’s no acclimating to the water, which was chilled further with bags of ice to about 37 degrees — a good five degrees colder than last year.
Sheriff Nate Sickler said he felt the 5-degree difference as he stood with a special Olympian Luis, who showed off medals for basketball and bowling.
Standing with a team of Oregon State Police troopers wearing “Copsickles South” T-shirts, trooper Travis Lee joked that they’re “all seasoned vets.”
“You might say professional,” trooper Ryan Neuenschwander joked.
Medford city councilor Kevin Stine jumped with Medford police for the fourth year in a row. Stine said he thought his strategy of staying close to the edge of the pool would work, but the cold water gave him a “sense of shock for a second.” It took him a minute to acclimate to the cold and find his towel.
“I jumped in again, and no, it does not get easier,” Stine said.
Stine said he puts himself through it because, “I love the mission.”
Half of the roughly $40,000 raised will go directly to Special Olympians, according to Andresen. The other half helps the nonprofit cover equipment and event costs, along with wellness programs for people with intellectual disabilities.