Polar Bear Plunge weekend kicks off as teens jump into bay

About 1,000 students participated in the Cool Schools Challenge Frigid Friday Plunge

January 25, 2013|By Alison Matas, The Baltimore Sun

Lyndsey Darling and Erin Stump huddled on the beach Friday at Sandy Point State Park, sipping cups of hot chocolate and looking skeptical.

Both wore sweatshirts and boots, but within an hour they planned to swap their heavy layers for bathing suits and wade into the Chesapeake Bay, kicking off the weekend of the 17th annual Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge.

Stump, 15, said the swim was against her better judgment, but Darling, 16, had one idea to stay warm.

"I'm going to wear my socks," she said, "because I've got another pair."

Special Olympics Maryland held its fourth annual Cool Schools Challenge Frigid Friday Plunge as a precursor to Saturday's main event, which drew a raucous crowd of nearly 15,000 people last year, many wearing outrageous costumes.

About 1,000 plungers were registered to jump into the 37-degree Chesapeake Bay on Friday afternoon, and the event already had raised more than $220,000, said Meghan Wilson, director of marketing services with Special Olympics Maryland.

Andrew Brow, 19, was there to support the Special Olympics. He helps with the organization's Prince George's County swim team and had donned the full-length penguin suit of the team's mascot. Others opted to wear much less.

Jack McCallister, 15, stood on the sand with two of his friends, hopping up and down to keep warm. All three sounded a chorus of grunts and cheers as they steeled themselves for the cold dip. Then, announcing they were going in with only their swim trunks on, they lifted up their sweatshirts to reveal bare chests.

Kylie Sheapp had already abandoned her beach towel and wore just a green bikini as she waited to jump in the bay. The 17-year-old from Sherwood High School in Montgomery County said she'd participated in the plunge before and described it as "exhilarating." She said that once she's in the water, she goes numb. It doesn't start to feel warmer, she cautioned — just colder.

When it was time for the plunge, the jumpers congregated on the beach for a group photo and let out a collective scream. Then the throng of teenagers charged into the bay, holding their elbows above the water and running out to the police officers who stood about waist-deep, bundled in caps and other cold-weather gear, waiting for them.

Hannah Moren, 13, had wrapped herself in a blue bathrobe to warm up after her plunge. She said the bay was freezing, but she went in because she "would have been called a wimp" otherwise.

Her classmate, Quinn McGinness, 14, bragged that he had put his head under the water and swum out to high-five the police officers.

As he stood on the beach wearing a coat and hat, the first-timer had some advice for the people who hadn't taken the plunge yet.

"Just go," McGinness said. "You can't worry about it. You just have to run."



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