The water temperature was 39.6 degrees, but that didn’t stop hundreds of chilly daredevils from running full speed into the Chesapeake Bay on Saturday afternoon.
Individuals and teams put on bathing suits and costumes and stormed the beach at Sandy Point State Park to run into the chilly water and back. No, they aren’t crazy; they’re just crazy about a good cause.
The Polar Bear Plunge is a fundraising event for Special Olympics Maryland in which people raise or pledge $100 or more to participate in the icy water fun. Those donations allow 15,588 athletes with disabilities to train and compete year round free of charge.
This year, 3,814 people took the plunge. Organizers said the events raised $4,143,621.32 (including sponsorship and a telethon), exceeding the goal of $3.2 million. Every Plunge property (Super, Cool Schools, Police, Corporate and Maryland) outperformed its goal, and all but Maryland Plunge had a record number of plungers, organizers said.
Why such cold water? The event was started by officers who belonged to the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics. The officers wanted to find a unique and new way to raise funds and thought they could get people to donate to the cause if they jumped into cold water.
The plunge was born.
This year the weather wasn’t as cold as it has been in previous years during the plunge, but people still shivered along the shoreline. They did jumping jacks, stretched and hopped on one foot in preparation to hype themselves up to experience the adrenaline rush of dunking their bodies in the near-freezing water.
Amesha Russell and Jamal Reeves eagerly waited for the gates to open for the 1 p.m. plunge. “This is on my bucket list,” Russell said. She flew from Florida to participate. “She’s just running, and I’m spectating,” Reeves said. “He’s my moral support,” she said.
Dua Lipa songs blasted across the beach, and people dotted the shoreline in costumes. There were superheroes, hula girls, a hot dog and even two ladies with plungers on their heads as an homage to the event. Don’t worry, the plungers were fresh.
The plunge even drew a political celebrity. Maryland Gov. Wes Moore splashed into Chesapeake Bay with Jim Schmutz, president and CEO of Special Olympics Maryland.
First-timers didn’t have any troubles taking on the challenge. Rob Aquino said it was “a rush, but once you’re in [the water] it’s fine.” He gave the experience a 10/10. Aquino’s friend Michelle Morris agreed. “Once you’re in it, you’re committed!” she said.
The top fundraising team this year was Mr. Peanuts Frozen Chozen Polar Bear Plunge Team with over $40,000 raised. The team began in honor of “Mr. Peanuts,” aka Ralph Mulligan, who died in 2010. Mulligan volunteered for Special Olympics Maryland for over four decades. Team 98Rock wasn’t far behind Mr. Peanuts with just over $35,000 raised.