Brrrring in the New Year with a Polar Bear Plunge

Polar Bear Plunges in Redmond, Kirkland and Renton give people bragging rights on New Year's Day, and in Redmond, a chance to raise money for charity.

Dozens of brave souls will ring in the New Year with Polar Bear Plunges around the area. 

In Redmond, there's a plunge planned at noon Sunday at Idylwood Park to benefit Special Olympics, with participants required to raise a minimum of $50 for the charity. All proceeds go to Special Olympics Washington and there are prizes and drawings for top fundraisers. The Issaquah Swim Team has so far raised $1,945 for the event and has nine members pledged to plunge. The Redmond Police team has raised more than $2,500 so far.

The Special Olympics Washington Polar Bear Plunge is organized by local law enforcement agencies and will take place at various locations around the state in January and February. The Redmond plunge is set for noon on Jan. 1, with additional festivities beginning at 10:30 a.m.

Those willing to take the plunge are invited to register as groups or individuals. You can also sign up as a "chicken coop" participant to help collect donations while avoiding the icy-swim aspect of the fundraiser.

In Kirkland, people will take the plunge at  at 1 p.m. on Sunday by throwing caution to the wind—with any luck there won’t be any of that—during Kirkland’s traditional, unofficial Polar Bear Plunge.

New Year’s Day polar bear plunges have become something of a local tradition, with the City of Seattle sponsoring one at Matthews Beach (noon) across the lake and another in Renton at (11 a.m.).

However, while Kirkland’s lives on, the City of Kirkland ended its sponsorship of the annual shiver-fest in 2009 due to budget constraints. It is officially unsponsored now. But although not exactly spontaneously, anywhere from 100 to 250 plungers still show up every year. 

“I’m one of the crazies who gets out there,” acknowledges Janis Rabuchin, who continues to to publicize the event on her informative web site the Kirkland Weblog. “Nobody’s name is on it, it's just kind of there. It’s a good time.”

Fortunately, the area's maritime climate is somewhat forgiving—as Rabuchin says, “we’re not chipping ice away out there.”

But is also is not exactly tropical. In Kirkland, the current forecast is for a 30 percent chance of rain, cloudy skies and a high temperature of 45 degrees. The water itself? Can you say “Brrrrrrrrrr!”? King County’s Lake Washington monitoring buoy between the two floating bridges on Thursday indicated the water was a cool 47 degrees.

“It’s in and out. It’s the quickest event that ever happens,” says , the Kirkland Parks Department’s business services manager, who used to help organize the plunge. “It’s always been a fun event. There’s no sponsor, but the fire department is there anyway, just to make sure everybody is safe.”


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