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Volunteer Spotlight, Chris Burns

Chris Burns is decidedly humble. When asked what his involvement is with Special Olympics Oregon, he responded “I’m just a guy that has a Polar Plunge team!”

That couldn’t be further from the truth, in the opinion of the Special Olympics Oregon staff and event managers. Chris Burns is the glue that keeps the Portland Super Plunge team afloat!

Super Plungers are a special breed. Rather than plunge just one time a year in icy cold water, super plungers dive in icy cold water 24 times. In a row.

This is all to raise funds for Special Olympics Oregon athletes and the competitions they so look forward to, like the upcoming return of Summer State Games.

Chris’ passion for Special Olympics Oregon started a “long time ago,” he said, being raised by a mom who was a special education teacher. “I volunteered in middle and high school,” said Chris, “helping organize track events and volunteering any time I had a school day off, to help out.”

Fast forward a few years, and as a Timbers fan, Chris discovered that the Timbers Army was putting together a Polar Plunge team; he found his way back to his passion for helping athletes by participating. The first year, Chris plunged once in the regular Polar Plunge. But then he saw “a tent full of crazy people, all in costumes, looking both miserable and so full of joy, and I thought ‘I want to do THAT!’”

Now he’s into his 6th year as a super plunger, which he estimates is “150 dunks in cold water!”  He primarily taps friends and family to help him raise funds annually and takes advantage of a corporate match from Entegris, the company he works for. He donates his own money too, and he gets great support from a co-worker who has a nephew with a disability, getting her friends to donate what they can to Chris’ team.

As Chris said, he feels “very blessed to have such a supportive network.”

He wants people to know that the “actual plunging is not nearly as bad as you think it is,” with a laugh, he continued, “the dip in the water is quick. You jump in, high five people in there with you, find that piece of your costume that fell into the water, and jump out!” He said the challenge lies in the long cold hours in between the actual plunging, but also said that is equally the best part.

“I’ve met some wonderful human beings through this event,” he said, “it’s exhausting, it’s cold, it’s very satisfying, and I love the stupid little moments.”  He said there is way more to it than anyone would believe; costume changes, restarting the dryer to get warm clothes ready, grabbing a snack, maybe a ten-minute cat nap. He keeps busy in the tent too with activities like building Lego sets, which he did between each super plunge last year. He vows to wear a fitness tracker this year to keep track of the miles walking between tents, down to the river and back.

Chris’ favorite part of being a super plunger? The costumes!

He claims to have three giant bins of various costume sets and pieces in his garage, and there are some ‘wacky’ ones, he claims. He loves seeing what fellow plungers come up with, and one super-plunging friend, Kathy, is a Green Bay Packer fan. Said Chris, “it’s not just limited to hats with the Green Bay Packers. There is a whole world of cheddar fandom I wasn’t aware of!”

The super plungers all come up with the themes themselves, and the groups all follow that theme each plunge. Chris tries to get creative, but sometimes he just must make do, like the time “there was a bike theme, and I ended up with way too tight of a biker uniform!”

He also reuses and recycles costumes. “The shark costume,” he said, “I’ve been able to use for a little mermaid theme, an animal theme, an underwater theme, you name it. It’s fun trying to come up with what you are going to do each hour.”

Chris claims that the ‘winner’ of each hour’s costume contest is “usually the person who came up with the theme in the first place.”

The greatest joy, for Chris, however…costumes aside….is seeing how much fun the athletes who participate in the super plunge are having, and their personal journeys. “It’s both mentally challenging and physically challenging,” said Chris, “it’s so cool to hang out with the athletes and get to know them.”