Polar Bear Plunge enthusiasts say brrrrrrring it on'
15th annual dip in the Chesapeake to benefit Special Olympics Maryland
Diving into the frigid waters of the Chesapeake Bay in winter may not appeal to some, but a Rockville athlete, a Montgomery police officer and a father from Brinklow don't mind taking the plunge as a way to help Special Olympics Maryland.
"It's something you do. You go in, turn around and come back out," said Ben Collins of Rockville. "It's a great feeling going into the Chesapeake Bay."
Collins, a Special Olympian, is a communications assistant for Special Olympics and one of thousands from across the state taking part in the Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge on Saturday at Sandy Point Beach, on the shore of the Chesapeake Bay near Annapolis.
The plunge is organized to raise money for Special Olympics Maryland, the state-level organization that organizes sporting competitions for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
Last year's Polar Bear Plunge raised $3.5 million.
Due to what Special Olympics Maryland spokesman Jordan Bishop attributes to the economy, $1.5 million has been raised so far this year.
The relationship between Special Olympics Maryland and Maryland State Police originated 14 years ago, when the organization looked to law enforcement for crowd control at competitions and fundraisers. Since then, it has blossomed to include other police departments across the state, including Montgomery County Police.
"We knew we would need a lot of support, logistically, and we've always had a close and personal relationship with [police]," Bishop said. "Their support has been invaluable throughout out the years."
Collins entered his first Special Olympic games 31 years ago, earning a bronze medal in weightlifting. At 44, he is preparing to compete in snowshoeing at the Special Olympics Winter Games from Feb. 27 to March 1 at Whitetail Ski Resort in Franklin County, Pa.
He is a veteran Polar Bear plunger. Since his first plunge in 1997, he has dipped with such well-known Marylanders as Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and former governor Robert Ehrlich Jr. (R).
Joining Collins at Sandy Point State Park will be Montgomery County Police Officer Barbara Natoli, of the department's 1st District, which includes Rockville and Potomac, who also will be taking her 15th plunge.
Natoli's involvement with Special Olympics goes beyond the Polar Bear Plunge. She has run in the Law Enforcement Torch Run, waited tables at a Tip-a-Cop benefit at Joe's Crab Shack in Gaithersburg, and presented medals to winning athletes at local and state competitions.
"When I first started, I knew [the Special Olympics] existed, but didn't know its capacity," Natoli said. "I had the opportunity to go to competitions and present them with our medals. Just to see the happiness on their faces and put the medals around their necks is awesome."
This year, Natoli, who did not want to disclose her hometown, had raised a little more than $1,100 by early this week, but hopes to reach her $10,000 goal by Saturday in order to qualify for the Super Plunge, which is a teeth-chattering 24 plunges in 24 hours.
Special Olympics is a family affair for Andrew Plaxen of Brinklow. Aside from being a plunger and Special Olympics supporter, he is the father of 21-year-old Loren "Action" Plaxen, a Special Olympian who won a gold medal in the women's 200-meter run at the Special Olympics National Games in Lincoln, Neb., last summer, and husband of Joyce Plaxen, Loren's coach and a family coordinator for Special Olympics Maryland.
Rounding out the family's involvement is Plaxen's son, Daniel, who is raising money for his father's plunges in his youth group.
Plaxen's advice for any aspiring and novice plungers out there is simple: just do it.
"I feel sorry for the skinny people out there, because I have extra weight to keep me warm," he said. "Try not think about it and wear special shoes because once your feet are cold, that's it. Jump in and don't take it slow."
If you go:
Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge will be held Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Sandy Point Beach near Annapolis.
Admission to the event is free. Entertainment and exhibits will include DJ Pauly D from MTV's "Jersey Shore," exhibitions from Chesapeake Bayhawks players, skateboarding exhibitions at the Pure Boardshop X-treme Adventure Tent and spa services from Robert Andrew Salon & Spa.
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and 9-year-old Special Olympian and disability advocate Rosa Marcellino are chairs of the event.
To learn more about the event, visit http://www.plungemd.com
To lend a hand
To sponsor Collins, Natoli, Plaxen or others plunging at the event, visit http://www.plungemd.com/sponsor_a_plunger.shtml and search by the participant's first and last name.
General donations to Special Olympics Maryland can be made at http://www.plungemd.com/make_a_donation.shtml.
Donations can be accepted on the day of the event and can be made onsite at the Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge.