The thrill of sprinting into the Deschutes River for Saturday’s Polar Plunge quickly wore off for the participants once they left the water. The 40-degree water was warmer than the air on the river’s shore.

Groups dressed in costumes — ninjas, superheroes and trolls — took turns submerging themselves in the river during the 12th annual Polar Plunge at Riverbend Park in Bend, a fundraiser for Special Olympics Oregon.

Deschutes County Search and Rescue members, warmly dressed in dry suits and wearing safety helmets, watched from the water to protect the plungers. There was less work for them than last year, when they waded past the snow-covered riverbank to clear away ice that was forming on the 37-degree water.

Bend resident Kyle Weaver and his 6-year-old son, Kameron, each wore polar bear outfits for the plunge. Weaver has participated all 12 years as a way to support Special Olympics Oregon and his sister, Bend Police Officer Kecia Weaver, who represented the state of Oregon at the World Special Olympics in Austria last year.

“It’s a lot of fun,” said Weaver, who belly-flopped into the river on Saturday. “A lot of smiles.”

Weaver, who works in quality management for St. Charles Health System, and his son were in the first group to plunge with members of the Bend Police Department. It’s better to go first, than having time to rethink the whole thing, Weaver said.

“Sometimes it’s the waiting that can be the toughest part,” he said.

Redmond resident Kasey Watson and her friend, Jillian Washburn, of Bend, came to the polar plunge for the first time Saturday dressed in red, white and blue tights and headbands.

The two friends called themselves “Team USA,” a nod to the Americans competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Watson, who works as a flight attendant, was cheered on at the event by her husband, Douglas, and their daughter, Juniper, who turned 6 months old on Saturday.

When it was their turn to go, Watson and Washburn didn’t hesitate as they jogged together toward the water.

“It’s pretty much how we do life,” Watson said. “We go for it.”

Some of the groups at the polar plunge were made up of high school students.

Madras High School’s associated student body and leadership class came dressed Saturday in colorful tutus. The students ran at the same time into the water, creating a huge splash.

Jared Holliday, 17, a Madras High School senior and student body president, said he sees the event as a combination of community service by supporting Special Olympics Oregon and team bonding for the class.

“It was pretty cold,” Holliday said. “But it was for a good cause, so it was fun.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7820,