This year’s Festival of Color was held on Sunday in Downtown Park in Redmond. Courtesy of Byron Dazey

Thousands ring in spring at Festival of Color, Polar Plunge

Last Saturday and Sunday were the final days of winter and two events were held in Redmond to mark the transition to spring.

The first event was the annual Redmond Police Department (RPD) Polar Plunge on Saturday at Idylwood Beach Park under an overcast sky and some light rain. On Sunday, the fifth annual Festival of Color was held on the Redmond City Hall campus, under sunny skies.

BRAVING THE COLD FOR A GOOD CAUSE

This was the 10th year for the Polar Plunge in Redmond to support Special Olympics Washington and Det. Jesse Bollerud, who has been the Special Olympics coordinator for RPD the last several years, said they have raised more than $175,000 over the last decade for the cause. This year had almost 100 Polar Plunge participants who brought in about $16,000. And there is still time to donate. Bollerud said they are accepting donations through March 31. To donate visit www.PolarPlungeWA.org and click on the Redmond plunge link.

Bollerud said RPD first became involved with the Special Olympics more than a decade ago through the Law Enforcement Torch Run campaign (LETR), the largest grassroots fundraising and public awareness vehicle for Special Olympics worldwide. He said LETR has raised more than $50 million dollars globally, adding that law enforcement in Washington raises more than $500,000 per year for Special Olympics Washington.

The money raised goes toward the chapter’s general fund to pay for things such as travel and training expenses for athletes so finances are not a hindrance for them to participate, said Bollerud.

He said the Special Olympics are important because they celebrate — on an international scale — a population that had been marginalized as recently as a generation ago.

Redmond Police Chief Kristi Wilson said the Polar Plunge is a great event to benefit a great cause as there are Special Olympics athletes within our community.

In addition to the Redmond community, Bollerud said RPD has extended its efforts for the Polar Plunge to other local law enforcement agencies such as the Mercer Island and Bothell police departments and the King County Sheriff’s Office.

While several members of local law enforcement participate, Bollerud said the community really gets involved in the Polar Plunge and the majority of participants are non-law enforcement.

Bollerud has participated in the Redmond Polar Plunge since its inception and although he is originally from Alaska, he admitted that running into Lake Sammamish is not great.

“It’s still bad,” he said. “That’s what makes it a fun event.”

Despite not relishing in the chilling experience of the plunge, Bollerud said his favorite part of the event is the anticipation leading up to the plunge — those last 30 seconds as people line up along the beach and get ready to run into the water.

Among those lined up the last few years have been Bollerud’s wife and kids, right alongside Bollerud, who makes sure to take the plunge in his uniform even though he no longer wears one while on the job. The only other time he dons his police blues is during the annual Tip-A-Cop event in which members of RPD act as servers at two local Red Robin locations to raise money for the Special Olympics through the tips they earn on the job.

Wilson also took the plunge last Saturday. When asked how the plunge was, she had one word.

“Cold!” Wilson said. “It’s called Polar Plunge for a reason.”

While she did run into the water along with other participants, the chief had one extra task that afternoon. Prior to everyone taking the plunge, it was her job to toss Redmond City Council member Hank Myers into the water from the dock.

This was not Wilson’s first plunge and it will not be her last.

“All of our chiefs have always participated,” Bollerud said, adding with a laugh that the department may need to add participating in the Polar Plunge to the police chief’s job description.

WELCOMING WARMER WEATHER

If the Polar Plunge was all about embracing the cold, last Sunday’s Festival of Color was all about welcoming the warmer weather to come.

The festival is modeled after the Hindu festival of Holi, which is widely celebrated in India to mark the coming of spring and signify the victory of good over evil.

This is the fifth year the event has been held in Redmond and artistic director Latha Sambamurti said the event is a partnership between the City of Redmond and the Vedic Cultural Center (VCC) in Sammamish — the latter of which holds other cultural events throughout the year such as Ananda Mela in Redmond and Flavors of India in Bellevue.

Sambamurti said the Festival of Color came to Redmond when the VCC received an arts season grant five years ago from the city.

Jessica Rubenacker, cultural arts administrator for the City of Redmond, said the festival was funded by the grant in its first three years and they officially partnered with the VCC last year.

“It’s been great,” she said about the partnership.

Despite the event being moved from Saturday to Sunday due to rainy weather, Sambamurti said this year’s event brought in a record of about 8,000 people who participated in the throwing of colored powder to celebrate spring. She said this number is based on the food and color packets they sold throughout the event.

“It’s not easy to postpone (a large event on short notice),” she said, adding that organizers decided to move the date of the event on March 14.

Sambamurti credited the many volunteers, ranging from school-aged children to senior citizens, for the festival’s success. She also said secretary Venket Iyer, who served as festival coordinator, and VCC president Harry Terhanian played a large role in the event’s success.

Rubenacker said the city’s role in the festival is providing the space and location and additional graphics and marketing support. In addition, they provide onsite logistic support the day of the event. This comes in the form of working with the police and fire departments, letting city staff know about the event and following up with post-event tasks such as clean up.

Event attendees are from all backgrounds and the goal of the Festival of Color is to build cultural bridges in the community, Sambamurti said — to connect people of different cultures. This is why throwing the colored powder is important.

“When we throw the colors, all of us look the same,” she said. “That’s what we need in the community.”

Sambamurti said if people understood each other more, there would be more unity in the community’s diversity.

Rubenacker added that the city is growing increasingly diverse and it is not just the area’s Indian community that attends the Festival of Color.

“Everyone is welcome to participate and learn and connect with each other,” she said.

Rubenacker said events like the festival help people better understand each other.

While she couldn’t pin down a single favorite part of the Festival of Color, Sambamurti said she loves the countdowns leading up to the color throwing as well as the color throwing itself.

“It’s amazing to watch,” she said.

 

Redmond police chief Kristi Wilson shivers after participating in last Saturday’s Polar Plunge. Courtesy photo