Donovan Heavener doesn’t need a resolution to start 2020 with a splash.
Every year, Heavener is one of the many brave people in and around Seattle who participate in polar bear plunges during the region's coldest months. Generally a first-of-the-year affair and strictly in low-temp seasons, this international phenomenon often involves dressing in costume, running long distances, or munching on concessions before or after the main attraction: a collective dunk in frigid water. Lest they be considered foolhardy wastes of time, the events frequently support charities through participants' donations and pledges.
A polar plunge on February 22, for instance, raises money for Special Olympics Washington. That one has been a fixture of Seattle winter for more than a decade, though last year was a close call: The event was rescheduled, ironically, due to below-freezing temperatures and a blanket of snow.
It would’ve been the first year Heavener missed in more than a decade of plunging. Now a Seattle Polar Plunge organizer, the Federal Way police officer started his annual tradition when he lived in Wisconsin. And although it might be a tad warmer here in Seattle, he has continued supporting the Special Olympics with every jump since he moved to the city in 2016.
Heavener and his fellow Federal Way police officers choose a different costume theme each year. But Heavener says his favorite part of the experience isn’t even on the day of the dunk—it’s when he later attends the Special Olympics and sees the athlete's faces.
“We make really great relationships with the [Special Olympics] athletes, so they're there to support us as well,” Heavener said.
The most difficult part of it all?
“Right when you first hit the water.”
Here’s some more information on Seattle Polar Plunge, as well as a roundup of New Year’s Day plunges.
This one might not be on the first of the year (you’ll have to wait until February 22), but you can still celebrate with help from a beer garden, food trucks, DJs, and a costume contest. Alki Beach, $10
If your New Year’s resolution is to be more active, get a five-kilometer-long head start with this run or walk that ends, if you would like, with a dive into Lake Washington. Afterward, enjoy some beer garden brews or, if you need to warm up, chili and coffee. Registration donations support local amateur athletes through Club Northwest. Magnuson Park, $40
The clock on 365 days of bravery bragging rights will reset for the 18th year in a row at Matthews Beach on Lake Washington. Seattle Parks and Recreation will provide a variety of activities before the jump itself, such as a photo booth, games for kids, and warm concessions. Matthews Beach, free
More plunges just outside of Seattle include the inaugural Lake Sammamish plunge, Point Defiance Marina’s plunge in Tacoma, an 18th annual Kirkland plunge, Renton’s Community Services and Ivar’s plunge, and Angle Lake’s food bank plunge in SeaTac.