Chill-seekers' second shot at the thrill

Plunge: Those who missed the annual charity event get another chance to take a dip in the icy Chesapeake Bay.

February 13, 2005|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,SUN STAFF

The thought of jumping into the icy waters of the Chesapeake Bay didn't appeal to Earline Wade two weeks ago.

"I chickened out [on] the first one," said the Severn resident, referring to the Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge held two weeks ago at Sandy Point State Park.

But some of the 2,700 people who were expected to show up couldn't participate because of heavy traffic and shuttle bus delays. So organizers arranged a second go-around of the charity swim event yesterday at Sandy Point.

"When I heard about it again, I thought it was an omen," said Wade, a few minutes before she, along with about 100 others, made a 30-yard dash into the water.

The number of thrill-seekers has increased in each of the nine years of the event, organizers said. The plunge, which raises money for Maryland's Special Olympics, brought in a record $625,000 two weeks ago.

A couple of thousand dollars was expected to be added to the pot after yesterday's event.

"We can't explain why this has expanded the way it has - except the great weather," said retired state police Maj. Greg Shipley, one the event's co-founders.

But money wasn't of paramount importance yesterday - organizers said they didn't want to discourage would-be plungers. Others were happy not to wait out a year.

Col. Rick Barton, superintendent of state forests and parks, was attending a gymnastics meet two weeks ago for his son Ethan, 16, in West Point, N.Y., and he thought he missed his annual opportunity to lead the less-clothed in for a splash near the Bay Bridge.

Then Barton got a phone message the next day from Tom Schniedwind, a vice president of Maryland's Special Olympics: "Are you ready to get wet?" Schniedwind said.

Brian Slattery, 21, stayed home two weeks ago because he "thought it was insane" to go for a dip while he was sick. Just before he was to embark yesterday on his first "official" plunge - he said he once jumped off a pier into the icy Magothy River - Slattery was ready to sign up for next year's event.

The timing of the makeup Polar Bear Plunge was just right for Jim Swanson, 57, of New Jersey, who arrived early yesterday in Annapolis to see his daughter's family.

When he heard about the event, he felt a desire to live out "lifelong ambition."

"It's not Coney Island on New Year's Day," he said of a similar event, "but it's close enough."

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