Police chief takes chilly Polar Plunge into lake

By Sara Bruestle | Feb 20, 2013
Photo by: Sara Bruestle Mukilteo Police Chief Rex Caldwell (left) takes the Polar Plunge on Feb. 9 with other “Super Plungers,” who raised more than $1,500 for the Special Olympics of Washington.

Mukilteo Police Chief Rex Caldwell took the Polar Plunge in a superhero cape this year.

Then he did it again.

And again.

And again…

Caldwell jumped into a very cold Lake Union Feb. 8 and 9 as part of the 2013 Polar Plunge in support of the Special Olympics of Washington (SOWA).

As a “Super Plunger,” Caldwell jumped into the lake not once, but 23 times.

In his police uniform and cape, he dunked himself 21 times on Feb. 8. Perhaps noticing the icicles melting off by the following day, he jumped in twice more on Feb. 9.

The water was a chilly 40 degrees, the air temperature not much warmer at 45.

Should he give you an icy stare or cold shoulder the next time you see him, well, it’s not personal.

“The first time in, it was shockingly cold,” Caldwell said. “After that, you knew what to expect. It was cold every time.”

Super Plungers are the chief supporters for Special Olympics in the state. They pledged to take the plunge every half hour in support of local athletes.

Caldwell, however, arrived late on Feb. 8 because he had been teaching at the Police Academy and had to jump in 2-3 times a half hour to catch up to the other 11 Super Plungers.

“We would jump in, get out, run about 200 yards across the bridge that was there and back,” he said. “And then I’d go right back into the water, and everybody else would go warm up.”

He raised $2,630 as a Super Plunger. The Mukilteo Police Department raised a total of $2,800: Caldwell and Officer Jess Brecht were the only two brave (or is it crazy?) enough to take the plunge.

The Polar Plunge is a fundraiser organized by law enforcement agencies throughout the state benefiting Special Olympics Washington (SOWA). Supporters collect pledges and plunge into frigid waters.

Nearly 600 supporters took the Polar Plunge on Feb. 9, raising more than $125,000 for Special Olympics. About 100 of them were police officers.

Funds provide athletes with an opportunity to compete in events around the state. It costs $650 to support one athlete for a year.

As the plungers jumped in, about 2,200 athletes were competing in tournaments to qualify for the Washington State Winter Olympics competition set for March 1-3 in Wenatchee.

“It’s courage matching courage,” said SOWA spokesperson Dan Wartelle of the Polar Plunge. “It takes a tremendous amount of courage to plunge all day in the cold waters of Lake Union, matching the courage of athletes who compete every day on the soccer fields, basketball courts and ski slopes.”

The Polar Plunge is one of many events sponsored by the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) for Special Olympics.

The Police Department has also raised funds through the LETR’s Tip-a-Cop and Cops on Donut Shops events.

The chief was a waiter at the Red Robin and Claim Jumper restaurants for Tip-a-Cop. He also camped out on top of the roof of a Krispy Kreme for Cops on Donut Shops – not necessarily any less wet than the Polar Plunge on a typical Northwest day.

He also did the Polar Plunge last year with two other Mukilteo officers and ran the Special Olympics torch in Germany in 2000.

“It’s been a passion of mine for many years,” said Caldwell, who is a member of the Washington LETR Executive Council. “I’ve been trying to get my guys more interested in helping out.

“They all have their favorite charity, but this is the charity of choice for law enforcement around the world.”

The Police Department also has plans to raise funds at the local QFC for SOWA by asking for donations to fill a traffic cone.

Police officers started LETR in 1981 as a way for local law enforcement to support athletes in their community and to assist with the passage of the Special Olympics torch to the state games.

LETR has grown into an international organization in the last 32 years, raising millions of dollars for Special Olympics athletes. Last year, Washington LETR efforts raised more than $600,000.

Caldwell has a personal interest in the Special Olympics, as well. A good friend of his had a sister who was a Special Olympics athlete for decades.

“I am dedicated to helping others, as I have personally seen how much this organization helps others up close and personal,” he said.

“Sometimes you have to do wild or crazy things to get people’s attention – like jumping in a lake.”

Donate to Special Olympics Washington at www.specialolympicswashington.org.

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