By Jill Harden
Hampton Union, Tuesday, February 11, 2003
HAMPTON - A little more than 500 people brrrraved the Atlantic Ocean at Hampton Beach Sunday afternoon, to benefit the Special Olympics in the fourth annual Penguin Plunge.
The clear blue skies and not-so-cold temperatures set the stage for dozens of people dressed in Mardi Gras garb who jumped into the ocean for a few seconds, then ran back onto shore through the snow to a warm towel.
Men and women sporting outfits ranging run-of-the-mill Speedo exercise wear to a full lobster costume joined in the fun.
Among the plungers were the governor’s wife, Denise Benson, and Hampton Police Chief Bill Wrenn.
Starting at 1 p.m., the first wave of 250 people lined up on the shore of the beach and awaited the signal to run into the water. Thirty minutes later the second wave of plungers went in.
"I’m still shaking," said a smiling Janet Ferry of Manchester, who came to Hampton as a part of a group called the Sharks, a Special Olympics swim team from New Hampshire.
Some plunged in alone and some went with a group. People could choose to designate their money to any branch or team from the Special Olympics. Otherwise, the money went into funding general programs for athletes with special needs.
Each plunger had to raise at least $250 to register for the plunge.
According to Mike Quinn, President of the New Hampshire Special Olympics, there were 100 more participants than last year. The plunge raised just under $250,000, $70,000 more than last year.
"We owe the Town of Hampton a lot of gratitude for the use of their facilities," said Quinn, who pointed out what wonderful opportunities the plunge has offered for the Special Olympics.
According to Quinn a large portion of the money goes to local teams.
After the plunge, people could go into the Casino Ballroom to warm up. There was soup, chowder, sandwiches and cookies provide for the cold plungers.
Also, upstairs, there were eight volunteer massage therapists from a Manchester massage therapy school who were prepared to do full-body sports massages on the frozen plungers.
Amy Hand, massage therapist from Manchester, said, "It was for a good cause." She recalled warming up some ice-cold hands and feet after the plunge. They had about 30 visitors.
Bill "Captain Plunger" Jones, a member of the NH Special Olympics Board of Directors, said, "If the heat and humidity don’t bother you, then you shouldn’t mind the cold."
Jones, who was wearing a red football helmet with six small toilet plungers attached, raised $2,800 himself from friends and co-workers.
"This event takes on a life of its own," he said. "It gets bigger and better every year."
The sun went down over the clear blue skies and the plungers headed home, emptying the jam-packed parking lots that haven’t been full since summer.
Maybe by this time next year they will have warmed up.