Taking the plunge for Special Olympics
Locals brace for annual frigid dip in Medical Lake
This Saturday many folks will be “freezin’ for a reason” in the frigid waters of Medical Lake as the fourth annual Polar Plunge gets under way. Since its inception, this event has raised thousands of dollars for Special Olympics Washington.
Airway Heights police officer Mikeal Suniga has enjoyed participating in the Polar Plunge. So when the staff sergeant with the Washington State Air National Guard was deployed to Iraq earlier this year, he was disappointed to know he’d miss it.
Or would he? His wife Jennifer Suniga organizes the fundraiser. She didn’t see why his being overseas should be a barrier to raising money for a worthy cause. With her help, on Feb. 9, the first Iraq Polar Plunge took place.
“The Iraq Polar Plunge was coordinated by the Airway Heights Police Department,” said Jennifer Suniga. And a world away, members of her husband’s unit got into the polar spirit.
“It is really cold at night, but hot during the day,” she explained. Even so, the nighttime temperatures aren’t frigid enough to replicate the Medical Lake plunge. But that didn’t prove to be a problem for resourceful troops.
“They cut a big tank in half and filled it with over 100 bags of ice,” Suniga said. Then they added gallons of water. The resulting 40 degree temperature seemed chilly enough. Over 30 participants, 11 of them from Fairchild Air Force Base, took the plunge. As a result $3,075 was raised for a worthy cause and donations are still coming in.
With that kind of inspiration, Suniga hopes Saturday’s event will be bigger and better than ever. Each year, the Polar Plunge has grown as more folks turn out to raise money to benefit local Special Olympians. The first Plunge featured 21 participants and generated $7,000. At last year’s event, 118 people braved the snow and icy water to raise approximately $25,000.
Though West Plains law enforcement organizes the fundraiser, volunteers come from many agencies including the Cheney Police Department, Eastern Washington University police, and city and county law enforcement agencies.
Individuals and teams collect $50 in pledges for the privilege of plunging into the icy waters of Medical Lake. Don’t let the warmer winter fool you. “The Fire Department told me Medical Lake is completely iced over,” Suniga said.
Firefighters will cut a large hole in the ice and then brave participants will jump into the lake and head back to the beach – usually quite quickly. Participants get a free lunch and a T-shirt.
Suniga said the costume contest is always fun. “We’ve had a flamingo and a polar bear and last year a group of 7- and 8-year-olds from Medical Lake Elementary dressed as Otter Pops. They raised more funds than the high school!”
Most importantly, Suniga said the funds generated by the event are used to help the area’s 1,200 Special Olympians travel to competitions or purchase uniforms and equipment. Last year several Special Olympians attended the fundraiser. Suniga said, “It was phenomenal to see the impact this makes in their lives.”