By Michael Page
The Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge on Jan. 28 raised $2.5 million for Special Olympics Maryland and set a record for participation, with 14,500 Plungers taking part.
The Plunge, which takes place annually at Sandy Pont State Park in Annapolis, is in its 16th year and shows no signs of slowing down.
"To raise $2.5 million in a one-day event," said Kelley Schniedwind, SOMD vice president of public relations and communications, "especially in this economy when you know people really are struggling out there, and the fact that people are finding it in their hearts to give that $10 or $20, I think really says a lot about how connected people are to this event and to the Special Olympics. It's really terrific, so we are thrilled with the results."
The Saturday Plunge, which features three separate plunges, kicked off at 11 a.m. and included a Pee-Wee Plunge, Family Plunges and mass individual plunges. The Saturday event was preceded by a Super Plunge event that began at 10 a.m. Jan. 27 and concluded at 9 a.m. Saturday, leading into the general event. The Super Plungers were tasked with raising $10,000, and in return for the sponsorship they received, they pledge to take the Plunge every hour for 24 hours. Matt Masone, with the support of his wife, Laura, became a Super Plunger for the first time this year after the two received some unexpected news.
"A little over a year ago, my son Nathan was born, and right after he was born, we found out he had Down's Syndrome," the 35-year-old Masone said. "While we were dealing with the adjustment, a friend of mine was doing the event, and I went and visited her while she was doing the event.
"I instantly got hooked in with the excitement and the energy and the passion and everything else that went into it. This is all very new to us and the things we are trying to get our arms around as a family, but I just knew I wanted to do this and make a huge impact and be part of it."
At last count, Masone had 200 donors, who had donated approximately $20,400 combined. The outpouring of support allowed the Masones not only to raise money and awareness, but to reconnect with some people they may not have had the opportunity to reach out to.
"We were honest with people," Masone said. "I said: 'Look, you guys know the story with Nathan. We want to be involved with Special Olympics. This is one of those really cool crazy things. If I'm going to jump into ice-cold water, I want to do it for a good reason.'
"It allowed us to reconnect with people we hadn't spoken to in years, family members who perhaps we don't keep in touch with as much as we should, old high school friends I hadn't spoken to in 15 years, and things like that, and it was amazing."
Another Super Plunger, Dave Hill, who is the program director for local radio stations 98 Rock and WBAL AM, said he began taking the Plunge when SOMD approached him about forming a business partnership.
"We agreed to a partnership with them," Hill said, "because we thought that it was a pretty cool event. I was trying to figure out how I would get my staff motivated to jump into the bay in the middle of the winter and somehow I agreed to jump in 24 times in 24 hours with the Super Plunge and you know, seven years later, I am still coming back and jumping in the water."
Being a seven-year Plunge veteran, Hill has learned to expect the unexpected.
"Every year, it's a challenge," he said. "The Plunge itself is fatiguing and every year, there is some kind of quirk that you weren't really planning for. This year, we had a big storm blow through and it rained so hard on the side of the tent that it got into my tent and got all of my dry clothes wet. That was on Plunge No. 1, so I spent the whole Plunge with semi-damp stuff."
The conditions didn't stop Hill. In fact, his eagerness to participate has grown stronger throughout the years.
"I was sitting in the tent this year and saw a guy who had lost his leg in the service, I believe in Afghanistan" Hill said, "and this is I think the fourth year I had seen him, and I realized that this guy who is sitting across from me is dealing with something I could never believe I could deal with is doing the same thing I'm doing by jumping into the water. It's humbling, and it makes you realize and prioritize what is important in your life."
Both Masone and Hill are planning to continue participating and see no end in sight to their backing of Special Olympics Maryland.
"I've got big plans for next year," Masone said. "I want to get a lot of people down here. We know Nathan, our son, will be involved with the Special Olympics for life, or at least we hope so. It's just important to us."
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• Dogged Legislators Made Lacrosse Official Sport
• Mike Bordick Welcomes New Orioles Role
• Annual Plunge Raised $2.5 Million In 16th Year
• From The Cheap Seats
Issue 170: February 2012