Warming up to good cause on chilly day Swimmers raise money for Special Olympics

January 18, 1998|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

Mark Patterson, manager of a Pasadena Radio Shack store, posed a simple question to a handful of his friends: "How much would you pay me to go jump in the river?"

It wasn't a river, and Patterson didn't get any money -- at least not for himself. What he got was sponsors to contribute to Maryland's Special Olympics before he and about 800 others raced down the beach at Sandy Point State Park yesterday to leap into the cold Chesapeake Bay waters.

They raised about $100,000.

"I have plenty of handicapped friends, so this kind of means something to me," Patterson said of the second Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge.

The jovial crowd included some wearing wacky costumes for the occasion.

As the 2 p.m. plunge drew near, some second-timers pronounced themselves veterans and recalled their first cold dip as fun, exhilarating and a little crazy.

Sweat shirts and other outerwear disappeared, revealing bare legs, feet and chests that seemed impervious to the 43-degree chill and light breeze.

Rodney Green, 31, of Pikesville, a patient service coordinator at Johns Hopkins-Green Spring Station, stripped down to trunks, then slipped a sleeping bag around his shoulders for warmth. Asked why he, colleagues and friends planned to plunge, he yelled, "We're crazy."

Co-worker Ed Colwell, 26, of Elkridge, called out, "Enough with the jiving. Let's start the diving."

And so they did. The bathers, mostly Marylanders but including a few from Minnesota and Philadelphia, lined up on the beach and ran into the water, many waving their arms and yelling, "Go, go."

As some shivered on their way back to families and friends waiting with towels, a small group flouted the event's no-lingering rule, getting their hair wet and bobbing in the water, high-fiving and mugging for television cameras.

Participants were required to raise at least $50 each in pledges or from their own pockets. The money goes to Special Olympics Maryland, which holds winter games Feb. 22-24 in Western Maryland and summer games June 5-9 in College Park.

Several said the experience wasn't as painful as it appeared.

Dripping wet and breathing heavily, John Kowalczuk, a 42-year-old criminal investigator with the Baltimore Police Department, said he liked it so much that he went back for a second dip.

"Actually, I'm pretty warm," he said. "I have Russian blood in me. It was exhilarating."

Pub Date: 1/18/98

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