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Twality Middle School students take the Polar Plunge


Team raises thousands for Special Olympics

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Emily Johansen, third from right,and her Twality Middle School classmates raised thousands for Special Olympics Oregon during Saturday's Polar Plunge in Portland.Emily JohansenDonning a samurai headband, 11-year-old Emily “JoJo” Johansen on Saturday ran headfirst into the Columbia River.

“This was way colder than I had expected it to be,” Johansen said.

The Twality Middle School sixth-grader was part of the annual Polar Plunge, a special fundraiser benefiting Special Olympics Oregon held Saturday at Broughton Beach in Portland.

Johnansen’s team “JoJo’s Freaking Frigid Friends” was made up of 31 Tigard-area residents, who raised $4,633 for Special Olympics Oregon.

Johansen and her team set out to raise $1,500 for the organization, which offers sports activities for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

Nearly half of that money came from Johansen’s friends at Twality Middle School. In total, about a dozen Tigard-Tualatin students — including middle-schoolers and a third-grader — took the plunge with Johansen as part of the team.

“We made a lot of phone calls to relatives and family friends,” Johansen said.

Johansen decided to raise money after seeing her mother participate.

“Last year, when my mom went in, she said it wasn’t that bad. So I went in thinking it wouldn’t be that cold,” she said.

Johansen dove into the 37-degree water, and while a few others in her group found the icy temperatures uninviting and quickly jumped out after wetting their ankles, Johansen swam out as far as she could, fully submerging herself in the frigid waters before heading back to shore.

As Johansen swam out of the river, her friend Hailey ran shivering from the water.

“That was the craziest thing I’ve ever done” she said, “and it was the best thing I’ve ever done.”

‘I want to help out’

Laura Johansen has been volunteering with Special Olympics for more than 25 years, she said.

“I love giving back, and it’s so nice to volunteer for them,” Laura Johansen said.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - The team jumps into the Columbia River during Saturdays Polar Plunge. The water Saturday morning was 37 degrees, Johansen said.Watching her mother, Johansen decided to take the plunge herself.

“I was talking to my friend Hailey, and we said that we should do this next year with our moms,” Johansen said.

Johansen recruited more students from her softball team, fellow classmates, former teachers and family friends.

“I’ve had kids in my class that have been autistic. I want to help out the kids who aren’t quite as lucky as me,” she said.

Johansen has wanted to volunteer for Special Olympics since she was 8 years old, she said.

“I’d ask my mom, ‘Can I volunteer, too?’ But I was too young.”

Johansen said now that she’s been able to do something for the organization, she’s hooked.

“I’d like to volunteer more if I can,” she said.

She plans on plunging again next year and sponsoring two teams — one for adults and one strictly for students.

“There weren’t a lot of kids there. We were one of the few groups that had kids in it,” she said.

She hopes to change that trend.

“We want to rally the troops for next year and do an all-kids team,” Johansen said.

It takes a lot of will power to dive into the chilly water, but it’s worth it.

The worst part isn’t diving into the water, Johansen said, it’s waiting your turn.

“It’s the anticipation,” she said. “You stand there saying, ‘I can’t believe that I’m going to do this,’ then you get into the water and think, ‘Oh, it’s cold,’ but it’s actually not so bad.”

Seeing so many of her daughter’s friends go out of their comfort zone to support Special Olympics warmed Laura Johansen’s heart.

“This is a great way to promote their programs and raise awareness of these amazing athletes,” Laura Johansen said. “This is an incredible group of kids.”

The next Polar Plunge event will take place in Bend on Saturday.

To donate to Polar Plunge and Special Olympics Oregon visit plungeoregon.com.