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Plunge for a worthy cause: Event raises money for Special Olympics athletes

March 11, 2019
April Cuvelier (with smartphone) takes a group selfie with Special Olympians (from left) Rhena Necco, Anthony Gegen and Danny Sipe, who participated in the Special Olympics Polar Plunge on Saturday at Seafarers’ Park in Anacortes.

ANACORTES — At the sound of a clanging bell, about 30 people charged into the chilly waters of Fidalgo Bay for the seventh annual Special Olympics Washington Polar Plunge.

“It was a little frigid, but we survived,” Anacortes resident Margo Carroll said as she and her husband hurried to dry off.

The two said they took the plunge to support their community.

Saturday’s event at Seafarers’ Memorial Park was put on by Special Olympics Washington and the Law Enforcement Torch Run — the largest grass-roots fundraiser for Special Olympics — to raise money for the nearly 18,000 Special Olympics athletes across the state.

Event organizer and Anacortes police officer Janet Wilson said this year’s plunge raised about $7,000 — enough to support 10-15 athletes for an entire year. All Special Olympics athletes participate for free.

She said 80 percent of the money raised will go back to Skagit County, including to Anacortes athletes Rhena Necco, Danny Sipe and Anthony Gegen.

“These two are my brothers,” Necco said Saturday, looking at Sipe and Gegen. “You don’t have to be blood relatives to be family.”

Sipe and Gegen met in the 1990s through Special Olympics and have been friends ever since. Necco added to their friendship when she started playing soccer with the two in 2006.

“(Special Olympics) creates a forever bond,” Gegen said.

Ed Gegen, who is Anthony’s dad and a basketball coach, agreed, adding it’s not just the athletes who are close-knit. The families also form close ties because they share a bond of having someone dear to them who has a disability.

Ed Gegen got involved in Special Olympics about 30 years ago when his son started playing basketball. The older Gegen said Special Olympics is great because athletes range in age from 9 to 70.

His son started when he was 8 and has amassed many medals over the years in basketball, swimming, soccer and softball.

In Washington state, Special Olympics communities are organized by region and each region offers different sports. Skagit, Whatcom, Snohomish and Island counties are part of the Cascade region, which offers all the sports Anthony Gegen participates in, as well as powerlifting, bowling and volleyball.

Around the world, Special Olympics has more than 4.7 million athletes who compete in 24 sports in 169 countries, according to its website.

For more information visit specialolympicswashington.org.