A pregame plunge

Fund-raiser: Hundreds brave the bay's chilly waters for Special Olympics - and show their Ravens pride, too.

January 28, 2001|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

It was just another peaceful winter afternoon at Sandy Point State Park outside Annapolis. That is, until a huge party of humans, many clothed in all manner of purple, showed up for a frigid plunge into the Chesapeake Bay.

Nearly 2,000 people -- 1,823 to be precise -- braved the cutting wind and cold and marched into 33-degree water for the greater good of Special Olympics Maryland. The record amount of $315,000 raised at yesterday's Polar Bear Plunge will help pay for the athletic festival held in April at the Naval Academy.

Another plunge will be held Feb. 4 in the Atlantic Ocean at Rehoboth Beach to benefit Special Olympics Delaware.

Yesterday's was the fifth annual event, but it had a Baltimore Ravens theme to celebrate and capitalize on the team's shot at the National Football League championship today. Plungers were invited to sport purple hair, paint, even tutus and feathers.

Col. David B. Mitchell, the Maryland State Police superintendent who founded the event, noted that Ravens defensive lineman Michael McCrary had planned to participate, until the team qualified for the Super Bowl.

"We were hoping he couldn't make it!" Mitchell said jokingly.

High spirits reigned as some tried to explain the charm of such a shock to the nervous system. "Everybody loves doing it," said Ed Hale of Baltimore, chief executive officer of one of the sponsors, First Mariner Bank, huddling in a tent before stripping down to his bathing suit. "I'd rather do this than a cocktail party. I tell all my friends that."

Brenda Clark, a special education teacher from St. Mary's County, and a few friends dressed as polar bears with purple trim. "It's something you wouldn't do unless you had a cause," she said.

Framed by the twin spans of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, a crowd lined the shore before the appointed dipping hour of 2 p.m., including about three dozen midshipmen from the Naval Academy. Among them were Ethan Haines and Jane Taylor, both 22 and members of 8th Company, who helped people register and then joined in the march to the water.

Taylor, of Hawaii, wasn't sure she was ready for the immersion. "Trade winds coming in, think Hawaii," she said with a laugh.

Dan Douglas, 37, a mailman who delivers to the area around Baltimore's Lexington Market -- and who wears his postal shorts until December -- could claim he was better prepared than most.

"I never get sick," he said, displaying a purple polar bear and "Giant-killer" drawings on his back. He raised $150 from friends at work and at Charlie Brown's bar in Rosedale.

Josh and Shannon Merchant, both 28, of St. Mary's County took home a Best Costume plaque for their portrayal of a shotgun bridal couple -- he with a top hat, she with a pregnant look and a mop of pink hair.

When the time came for the plunge, a wave of energy rose up in the crowd as people urged each other on. In the water and on land, Anne Arundel County firefighters and paramedics kept a close eye on the plungers, who were instructed not to get their heads wet for fear of hypothermia.

Adam Buckfelder dove in head-first anyway and described the sensation as utter numbness. Said the 21-year-old midshipman, "It's really a great experience."

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