It'll be a cold day in the bay when the Flying Pigs dive in to aid the Special Olympics

Polar plunge fund-raiser to be held tomorrow

January 23, 2004|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

As if jumping into the winter water of the Chesapeake Bay weren't crazy enough.

Ravens fans started painting themselves purple, and men started wearing string bikinis for the annual Polar Bear Plunge fund-raiser. Last year, a skydiving Elvis impersonator helped signal the rush into the surf.

This year, three swimmers plan to camp all night on the beach at Sandy Point State Park -- and take hourly dips under the moon -- to raise money for the Maryland Special Olympics.

"In this age of Survivor and Fear Factor, you have to be a little edgy," said state police Maj. Greg Shipley, one of the three swimmers. "We were hoping to add a twist."

By 2 p.m. tomorrow, when the governor and the state police superintendent arrive for the official plunge, Shipley, Special Olympics fund-raiser Tom Schniedwind Sr. and Special Olympian Jimmy Myrick Jr. will have been in the water 20 times.

They call themselves the Flying Pigs, a reference to the typical response they get from people they ask to take the plunge: "Yeah right, when pigs fly."

Schniedwind hopes the stunt will raise an additional $30,000 for the athletic competition.

The pig team will sleep in a heated tent, that is if its members sleep at all between hourly dashes into the 40-degree bay waters starting at 3 a.m., when the air temperature is likely to be in the 20s.

Myrick, who has been plunging for four years, says the frigid dips aren't as painful as they sound. "When you jump in the first time, it's cold," said Myrick, 21, who buses tables at Big Bats Cafe on Kent Island, which is catering the event and will be host of the post-plunge party. "When you go in farther, it gets warmer."

Also, he says, "I have water shoes. That helps."

Shipley, a 46-year-old father of two, jokes that he's glad Schniedwind didn't insist that they bungee jump off the Bay Bridge.

Shipley and Schniedwind founded the event eight years ago. "You only have to attend one Special Olympics event to be touched," Shipley said. "The athletes' cheerfulness and enthusiasm despite their challenges is an incredible inspiration."

Still, when Schniedwind approached the state police about making the Polar Bear Plunge their signature charity event, Shipley was little hesitant.

"I said, `How about a golf tournament in May?' Tom said, `How about a Polar Bear Plunge?' And I said, `How about a golf tournament in May?'" Shipley recalled.

Schniedwind, a 41-year-old father of three, persisted. As a result, the plunge has grown from 300 participants raising $75,000 in 1997 to 2,200 swimmers raising $442,000 last year.

The state police also sponsor the St. Mary's Splash in December and the Deep Creek Dunk next month for the Special Olympics.

After the economic slump and a lot of rained-out charity events last summer, Schniedwind hopes the Flying Pigs will make up for some lost revenue.

People may be laughing, but they're also contributing, said Shipley.

As of yesterday, the Flying Pigs team had raised $20,000.

"I'm kind of a Barnum & Bailey guy. I was looking for a big idea," said Schniedwind. "We wanted to show our appreciation for the people who contribute to these events. ... And I think it shows that if we can go in 20 times, people can get off the couch and do it once to help."

If the idea of jumping into frigid water is too much to bear, the Flying Pigs offer these sponsorship levels: $100, Little Piggy Sponsor; $250, Pot Bellied Pig Sponsor; $500, Pork Fat Rules Sponsor; and $1,000 or more, Porky Plunge Sponsor.

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