The Great Polar Bear Challenge


Participants raise money for Make-A-Wish Idaho, then take the plunge!

By Chelsea Chambers

Photos Submitted by Make-A-Wish Idaho

The temperature has dropped and you can begin to see your breath in the brisk air. Layers become an important part of dressing in the morning and the heater turns on after a summer slumber. Winter—the perfect time for a swim… wait a minute…

Not many of us are jumping at the opportunity to dive into icy waters in the middle of the winter, but there are hundreds of dedicated people that take the Polar Bear Plunge each year, all to support an incredible cause: Make-A-Wish Idaho.

Helene Peterson, the Special Event and Development Manager for Make-A-Wish Idaho, shared more information about the Polar Bear Challenge and its promise to Idaho to grant wishes to those suffering from long-term and life-threatening medical conditions. Read more about some of the incredible things they have done!

Who started the polar bear plunge? How long has it been going on?

“January 1, 2019 will be the 16th Annual Great Polar Bear Challenge. It was started by Larry Gebert as a water skiing/swimming event. I think there were only 30 people that year. Now, we have more than 250 people participate.”

What wishes has the event helped grant?

“Each year we raise enough money to fund about six wishes. Funds raised help to support wishes like Ryley’s to become a DJ. For his family, having their son that was diagnosed was a deep emotional blow. Ryley receiving a wish was a silver-lining in a bad situation and gave them something they never would have been able to afford. Ryley and his family have become ambassadors for Make-A-Wish Idaho. They share their journey, fears, and inspire others to give and to be a part of the wish process. He’s known to others as “DJ Cut-Throat Kid” due to his thyroid cancer, surgery, and scar. Being given DJ equipment has sparked within Ryley a new sense of purpose. He’s been the DJ at local proms, weddings, and Make-A-Wish Idaho events! He’s is also going to college to study music.

Ryley’s mom, Kerri, wrote to her wish-granting volunteers the day after Ryley’s surprise wish reveal:

‘I wish you could’ve seen Ryley last night.  He stayed up most of the night. He kept putting his hands on his head saying, “MOM… this piece… do you realize what this is?!?” and “This piece of equipment is a dream come true!” Then he would talk about another one, “MOM… this one…dream come true.” He has them all unpacked and rearranged his room and furniture.  His calm way of excitement at Guitar Center certainly exploded last night as he was setting it all up.’”

Join Make-A-Wish Idaho in their efforts by taking the plunge! January 1 at Lucky Peak’s Spring Shores Marina.