BONNERS FERRY — Ice crusted the Kootenai River as the day drew closer — the day that people gather together, summoning all their courage, in order to benefit the Special Olympics, and plunge into icy water.
The ice started to break up, only days before the event, but it still clung around the dock. Officials eyed it warily, wondering if it might freeze out a Boundary County favorite — the Penguin Plunge.
With help from Boundary County Road & Bridge, the last of the ice was cleared away from the dock. The sun came out and people flocked to the Penguin Plunge on March 9, many in pirate costumes as per the theme. A pirate ship brought by Dave Miminack was docked for children to discover treasures on, and a plank was installed on the end of the dock.
Those who had gathered pledges awaited their turn to walk the plank into the frigid waters. Boundary County Search and Dive Rescue was on hand, both on the dock and in the water, keeping the brave jumpers and pirates safe.
One by one, and two by two, the plungers jumped, belly flopped, flipped, and plunged off the dock. They came rocketing out of the water with the lure of a spa awaiting them supplied by North Idaho Spas.
Distinguished Young Woman Shawna Siver, Magistrate Tera Harden, Mayor David Sims, Commissioner Wally Cossairt, High School Principal Kevin Dinning, Mugsy’s Tavern and Grill Owner Danielle Reasoner, and Waterways Chairman Darron Branson watched the jumpers carefully, judging costumes and acrobatics.
At the end of the plunges, awards were handed out, including the Judges Choice, which went to 84-year old Marciavee Cossette, who waded in the water in full costume. The Spirit Award went to the group of Distinguished Young Women, and South Boundary Fire Chief Tony Rohrwasser took home the prize for the most donation — again.
“I think that it is just incredible to see the support that our community gives Special Olympics so it is wonderful to see the people, both the spectators and, of course, the people that jumped,” said judge Sims. “It is great to see the excitement and the commitment to the Special Olympics.”
The bar was set high last year, having pulled in $7,832 in 2018 for the Special Olympics. This year skyrocketed past that mark, thanks to many pledges and donations from local individuals and businesses, bring the total earnings to over $12,500.
As for the people that survived the icy plunge? North Bench Firefighter Keanen Hurst called the water “refreshing”, while his fellow firefighter from North Bench, Granite Allinger said that it was quite cold.
“I still jumped in ... and got back onto the dock rather quickly,” Allinger said while laughing and shivering. “I think I found a new vocal range on my spectrum.”
“Thank you to everyone who sponsored North Bench,” Allinger added. “Go North Bench, go Idaho Special Olympics!”
A first timer to the Penguin Plunge was lured in by the pirate theme. Robert “The Blind” Pew helps run and organize the fair for the Sandpoint Renaissance Association every year.
“I am the chief pirate in charge of the games for the kids and the adults as well,” said Pew. “We also turn up to events, such like this, and lend our hand a support in various ways to help the community.”
“This be my first time,” said Pew. “The water was fine. The water was warm.”
But then again, he is a yooper from northern Michigan … and a pirate.
Another first timer this year was Special Olympics Idaho Chief Executive Officer Laurie La Follette, along with Shannon Reece, the Director of Special Events. La Follette had wanted to travel up and attend the Penguin Plunge for many years, but it always fell on a date when something else was happening that prevented her from coming up.
“We had something going on this weekend too, but I decided I was coming with Shannon,” said La Follette. “The rest of our staff is in Sun Valley with the regional winter games.”
She was not disappointed.
“The community of Bonners Ferry coming out the way that they have, to support our athletes and our movement, is incredible,” said La Follette. “I am blown away by the amount of people out here, the costumes, the pirate theme, the way this community has rallied and come together — I am just overwhelmed with gratitude, and I am so glad that I made the trip up here.”
La Follette explained that the money that is raised from this event helps the Bonners Ferry local program and allows the athletes to train and compete year round, and they depend on funding from events like the Penguin Plunge.
“For a small community like Bonners Ferry, to have this kind of attendance, raising this kind of money, is just something,” said La Follette.
For everyone other than the brave plungers, they will probably wait for the lazy days of summer before taking to the river. But those that braved the icy waters knew they were helping Special Olympic athletes to achieve their dreams.