Mid-March may not seem an ideal time for beach going, but you wouldn’t have known it from the crowd at Zephyr Cove on Saturday. About 500 people came from around Northern Nevada and California to bathe themselves in the brisk, 40 degree Tahoe waters as participants in the 2016 Polar Plunge. The event, meant to raise money for Special Olympics of Northern California/Nevada, has drawn an increasing number of brave souls with ice in their veins since its inception.
Eight years ago, Joyce Whitney-Silva, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Greater Nevada Credit Union, first participated in the Plunge. She has participated every year since, as has Greater Nevada Credit Union, the title sponsor of this year’s event.
“It was over at Ski Run Beach and I think maybe there was about 50 people maximum there that day. We raised just a small amount,” said Whitney-Silva, who is also in charge of the Polar Plunge planning committee and a member of the board for Special Olympics of Northern California/Nevada. “Now? It’s gotten to be close to 500 people and we should hit $100,000 today!”
Whitney-Silva’s enthusiasm was shared by many at Saturday’s event. Luke Eisaman is a 23 year old Reno resident and Special Olympian. Before Saturday’s Plunge, his sixth, he was focused more on the importance of the event than the cold water that awaited him.
“What’s running through my head is all the sports I’m doing in Special Olympics,” said Eisaman. “This is to help my Special Olympics athletes and help myself as well.”
Proceeds from Saturday’s event will provide support for over 500 athletes according to David Solo, President and Chief Executive Officer of Special Olympics of Northern California/Nevada, who also noted that there is no cost for athletes to participate in Special Olympics competitions.
In addition to raising money, the Polar Plunge provided a panoply of events for people to participate in, from limbo competitions and pie eating contests to air guitar performances and the Polar Plunge itself. Solo took his first plunge last month in San Francisco. The experience helped prepare him for Saturday.
“I think mentally you’ve got to prepare for it,” said Solo, “and my garb and my clothes that I wear today – I’m more ready for going in, and I’ve got a process for drawing off and warming up afterward.”
The event also provided people a chance to don their most creative costumes, all based around a rock and roll theme devised by Whitney-Silva. Participants got to show off their costumes in a parade with musical accompaniment provided by the University of Nevada, Reno Marching Band. As the parade ended, everyone braced themselves to take to the water.
Wave after wave of people, from GNCU employees to law enforcement to Special Olympians all piled in to the frigid Lake Tahoe surf. Among the last to emerge were Solo and Whitney-Silva. As he stepped on shore, Solo had only one thing to say.
“That was colder than San Francisco!”