People dressed as polar bears with piercings, characters from “The Wizard of Oz” and in board shorts and bikinis — and then ran with gleeful abandon Saturday into the frigid Deschutes River.

The 11th annual Polar Plunge at Riverbend Park in Bend, a fundraiser for Special Olympics Oregon, drew a large crowd to watch participants splash their way into the 37-degree water.

Organizers roped off a section of the riverbank before the plunge, and cleared away the ice and rocks so people could run safely into the river.

Deschutes County Search and Rescue members in red dry suits and safety helmets waded in the water as well to offer extra assistance. Rescue officials joked that if the water was any colder, people would be plunging through ice.

Jamie Lesowke and her three co-workers at Starfire Body Piercing Studio in Bend arrived as the polar bears.

With a nod to the studio, their bear costumes had pierced belly buttons and they wore bikinis.

Team Starfire — Lesowke, Elektra Kidd, Tiahna Kempton and Brady Lowen — raised $1,279 for Special Olympics Oregon at their studio in the week leading up to the plunge.

Moments before the plunge, Lesowke said she was more excited than nervous.

“I just don’t want to slip and fall,” she said. “That is the only thing that makes me nervous.”

The biggest challenge for Team Starfire was getting out of the water, Kidd said.

The polar bear costumes became waterlogged and their bikinis, which were worn over the costumes, slid off, which made for a difficult run on the muddy riverbank.

Despite slipping, sliding and splashing through the near-freezing water, the women agreed they plan to plunge again.

“It was so much fun,” Kidd said. “We are definitely coming back next year.”

For one family, Riverbend Park on Saturday was like visiting the Land of Oz.

Sweet Home resident Donna Poirier, who dressed as Glinda the Good Witch, said this was the eighth year her family came to the plunge dressed in themed costumes. Her family, who dressed as the Flintstones last year, won the group costume contest Saturday as Wizard of Oz characters.

Her husband, Rob, who wore a Tin Man costume, said the family was able to raise more than $2,000 for Special Olympics Oregon. The former director of Deschutes County emergency dispatch center has supported the Special Olympics for years through Torch Runs and Polar Plunges.

“That is really why we are here,” he said. “It’s fun, but we are here for a great cause.”

Donna Poirier’s sister, Peggy Cordier, who dressed as Dorothy, came from Portland with her husband, Dave, who dressed as the Scarecrow. Poirier’s daughter, Kristen Grabeel, who dressed as the Cowardly Lion, came from Lebanon.

Even though Special Olympics Oregon hosts a Polar Plunge in Portland, Peggy Cordier said, she enjoys making the trip to Bend each year to plunge with her family.

“It’s kind of turned into a tradition doing it here and not in Portland, even though it is really, really super cold,” Peggy Cordier said. “We make a fun weekend out of it.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7820,

kspurr@bendbulletin.com

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