A charitable plunge into winter's chilly waters

Hardy souls raise $200,000 for Special Olympics

January 23, 2000|By Mara H. Gottfried | Mara H. Gottfried,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

John Guerriero of Little Italy had participated in two mid-winter "polar plunges" before, but never one like yesterday's at Sandy Point State Park.

"The water was very, very, very cold," said Guerriero, 68, who donned a skimpy, multicolored Speedo for the fourth annual Polar Bear Plunge sponsored by the Maryland State Police to raise money for the Special Olympics.

More than 1,000 swimmers took the plunge in the Chesapeake Bay, the largest turnout for the fund-raiser in four years, despite the air temperature of 26 degrees -- 6 degrees colder than the water. Pledges totaled more than $200,000 for Special Olympics Maryland.

The State Police plan a similar event, the "Deep Creek Dunk," Feb. 26 in Western Maryland.

State Police Superintendent Col. David B. Mitchell said yesterday there was no thought of canceling the event because of extreme cold.

"I was concerned about the ice on the edge of the water, but everything was fine," Mitchell said. A police helicopter, ambulances, doctors, divers and boats were on hand, just in case.

"The hardest part was getting out because there were people charging in at the same time," said Dennis Robinson, a Baltimore County police major who took the plunge for fun with his 28-year-old son and 10 county officers. "It wasn't as bad as I thought. I'm still having trouble feeling my toes, though."

Tom Schniedwind, Special Olympics Maryland senior vice president of sports marketing, marveled at the concept.

"It's kind of weird that people pay a lot of money to jump in the freezing water, but it points to the generosity of the community," he said. "You can't put a price tag on that kind of support."

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