But it's fora good cause

UP FRONT

Charity: Ann and Phil Denkevitz will run willingly into the Chesapeake Bay on Saturday. They and hundreds more will pay for the privilege

January 20, 2000|By Sandra Crockett | By Sandra Crockett,SUN STAFF

Perhaps it was something in the water. It was February 1997 when Ann Lynch and Phil Denkevitz plunged waist high in the chilly Chesapeake Bay. The occasion was the very first Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge held for the Special Olympics Maryland chapter.

Their eyes locked, and when they emerged from the 34-degree bay water, love was in the air. Ann and Phil were engaged two months later, married by October and now live the fairy-tale existence of happily ever after in Baldwin. OK, it wasn't quite like that, but close enough.

Ann and Phil both taught at Loch Raven Academy, a middle school in Baltimore County. They were friendly co-workers but had never dated when they decided to take the plunge, into the Chesapeake, that is.

Blame it on Phil, who came up with the idea.

The Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge appealed to Phil because it's for a good cause. People are required to raise a minimum of $50; all of the proceeds go to Special Olympics Maryland, an organization that funds athletic competition for developmentally disabled children and youth.

The plunge also intrigued Phil because he is an expert swimmer who held records both in high school and college. He ranked in the top five in the world in the 50-meter freestyle in 1964. Yet initially, even he had some doubts about jumping into the water during the middle of winter.

"You have to be willing to talk yourself into getting up the nerve to do it. And I try to talk others into doing it," he says. "Misery loves company!"

As the saying goes, timing is everything. And it apparently was the perfect time for Ann to sign on to the adventure. All she needed was for Phil to ask.

On the day Phil popped the question, about plunging, she had walked over to discuss school activities. "He had the radio station on WQSR and we heard an advertisement about the Polar Bear Plunge," she says. "Phil said, `I'm going to do it.' When he said that, I said, `I want to do it, too.' "

Ann says she was willing to take the plunge because it was for a good cause and because she wanted to get to know Phil better.

They drove to the event together.

That February day, "the air was in the 40s," Ann says. But they were chilly enough to be in warm jackets.

"At some point, I thought, I'm going to have to take my clothes off -- down to swimsuit," Ann says. And so they joined everyone else shivering in their swimwear.

"If you think about it a lot, you can almost talk yourself out of it," Phil says. But he's glad he didn't.

"On the beach, you all run down to the water screaming and hollering like a bunch of idiots. Once in the water, you will be really invigorated. You go in to your waist and turn around and come right back out. It's absolutely a hoot and for a good cause."

After the plunge, the couple stopped at a restaurant to talk and have refreshments.

"I really liked this guy but didn't know if he was interested," says Ann. "So I asked him if he was interested and he answered by picking up my hand and giving it a kiss."

Who knew a quick dip in the Chesapeake Bay could lead to lasting romance on land?

This year, Ann, 55, and Phil, 56, will be back for their fourth year at the Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge, which takes place this Saturday at 2 p.m.

For Special Olympics Maryland, the event has been a rousing success. Last year, 800 sturdy souls took the plunge into the bay. Their efforts raised $220,000 for the chapter, including a $20,000 team contribution from the Maryland State Police.

"Last year, it was the largest single-day event in the 30-year history of our chapter," says Dave Gell, spokesman for Special Olympics Maryland.

Last year, the temperature was above 40 degrees. However, the water was 37 degrees and winds were gusting at about 15 mph.

No matter how cold it gets this Saturday, the event will go on. It is not called the "Polar Bear Plunge" for nothing. Unless there is a weather catastrophe, it will not be canceled, the organizers say.

Swimsuits are required, of course, and footwear is advised. Additionally, participants are advised not to go in over their waists. Wet suits are not allowed, but if folks get a chill, there will be plenty of medical and emergency personnel on hand.

When the plungers get out of the cold water, there will be two large, heated tents (also available before the plunge) for them to change clothes and warm up in.

The planners say their goal this year is to entice even more people to take the plunge.

"There is a little bit of a challenge between Maryland, New York, Delaware and Virginia," says Pat Krebs, president and CEO of Special Olympics Maryland. "We are looking for 2,000 plungers."

People can register the day of the event, beginning at noon. Everyone receives an official T-shirt, a lunch from Outback Steakhouse and a group photo.

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