A chilly fundraising tradition continues Saturday in Marina del Rey

By Michael Aushenker

Last year’s Polar Plunge made a splash for Special Olympics  Southern California Photo by Chiko Hodge

Last year’s Polar Plunge made a splash for Special Olympics
Southern California
Photo by Chiko Hodge

Call it cosplay by the sea — with an ice-cold twist.

Last year, it did feel at times like a touch of Comic-Con had arrived in Marina del Rey, with tribes of swimmers in costumes and face paint — including groups from Loyola Marymount University, UCLA and USC — diving into the frigid winter waters of the harbor.

The annual Polar Plunge benefitting Special Olympics Southern California returns Saturday to Mother’s Beach, where participants are encouraged to create and wear costumes for the dual purpose of dousing themselves in the drink and supporting programs for local Special Olympics athletes.

But what does a cold swim have to do with the Special Olympics?

“Our Special Olympics athletes face many challenges throughout their lives. Jumping into cold water is a challenge, so we’re asking people to overcome this challenge to help change our athletes’ lives through the transformative power of sports,” said Brandon Tanner, director of special events for Special Olympics Southern California.

This year’s Polar Plunge ups the game, literally and figuratively, with a 30-foot inflatable waterslide directly into an ice-water filled pool. The ocean water at Mother’s Beach is expected to be a brisk 55 degrees — plenty cold, but not quite arctic — so the icy pool makes the event a truly polar experience.

So far about 150 have signed up for the Polar Plunge at Mother’s Beach, but Tanner expects that number to at least double and as much as triple this week, with many registering the day of the event.

The annual Polar Plunge was previously held in Malibu, but the move to Marina del Rey has been a success from the get-go. In its fifth and final year in Malibu, Polar Plunge fundraising reached a peak of $26,000. Last year’s Mother’s Beach event raised about $39,000, Tanner said.

This year, Tanner hopes to reach the $50,000 mark.

Malibu’s somewhat isolated and spread-out topography could not compete with the density and social tapestry of Marina del Rey, where the Polar Plunge has become “more of a community event,” he said.

Representatives from the Marina del Rey Sheriff’s Station, L.A. County Fire Station in Marina del Rey, Loyola Marymount University and the nearby California Yacht Club (which has already raised $25,000, Tanner said) will be on hand to help with information and meet-and-greet booths. The event also benefits from a rivalry-fueled annual fundraising challenge between the UCLA Anderson and USC Marshall schools of business.

Participants can also enjoy coffee and pastries from Killer Café (sister restaurant of Killer Shrimp on Admiralty Way), frozen treats from Yogurtland and hot slices from Fresh Brothers Pizza.

The Special Olympics grew out of a summer camp for disabled children founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in 1962, and the inaugural Special Olympic Summer Games took place six years later in Chicago.

Olympic decathlon gold medalist Rafer Johnson founded Special Olympics Southern California in 1969. Currently more than 17,000 athletes and 15,000 coaches or volunteers take part in year-round training and competition in 12 Olympic-style sports.

Los Angeles is hosting the 2015 Special Olympics World Games — the largest sports and humanitarian event anywhere in the world this year — and Santa Monica has been tapped as a host city for international athletic delegations.

Each participant in the Marina del Rey Polar Plunge must raise a minimum of $50, earning them an official event T-shirt.

Don’t worry if you’re too chicken to plunge, organizers have you covered. Participants who choose to stay dry can register as a chicken and cluck at their friends.

But if you go that route, it wouldn’t hurt to dress up as a chicken, too.

Polar Plunge check-in and registration begins at 8 a.m. and swimmers take their first plunge by 10:30 a.m. at Mother’s Beach, 4101 Admiralty Way, Marina del Rey. Call (562) 502-1041 or visit sosc.org/laplunge to register.