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Mount grads, county residents take the plunge for Special Olympics

Sunday - 1/22/2012, 12:15pm  ET

Maggie Kalis was born in August 2006 with Down syndrome.

More than five years later, more than $155,000 has been raised for Special Olympics Maryland in her honor.

The Maggie's Mounties Maryland Special Olympics Polar Bear Plunge team is made up of alumni of the team's namesake college. Maggie's parents and many of their friends are Mount St. Mary's University graduates. Maggie's uncle and cousin, who live in Frederick County, also participate.

According to Kevin Kalis, Maggie's father, this will be the fifth year that Maggie's Mounties will take the annual winter fundraising plunge into the chilly waters of the Chesapeake Bay.

The team has grown from 19 members its first year to 53 this year, Kevin said.

The Mounties were in second place for fundraising out of about 940 registered teams as of Jan. 18, according to Kelley Schniedwind, a spokeswoman for Special Olympics Maryland.

Members have raised more than $28,000 so far this year. Their goal is to hit $40,000 before the event, scheduled for Saturday at Sandy Point State Park.

"We're sure that they will hit that," Schniedwind said. "Last year they raised around $37,000, and each year they have increased their total by a few thousand dollars."

Maisy Paxton, Kevin and Maggie's cousin, is a Middletown High School junior. She has participated in the plunge every year since Maggie's Mounties was founded, when she was in seventh grade.

"I feel like I'm doing something good for (Maggie)," Maisy said Thursday.

Maisy is especially proud of her team, because it does so well compared with hundreds of others.

"We just pull all of our resources and come out on top," she said.

Though it's painful to submerge her body in the freezing waters of the bay each year, it is worth it for the smiles she knows she is helping put on people's faces, she said.

Over the years, Maisy has raised about $9,000 for the team.

According to Ric Paxton, Maisy's father and Maggie's uncle, his daughter always beats him when it comes to fundraising. He tends to stay in the water longer, though, he said.

"You go down there and you can't help but get caught up in the excitement of it," he said.

"In many ways, as cold as it is, it's very heartwarming."

He, too, is proud to be part of such a successful team.

"It shows the drive and determination of the team members that make up Maggie's Mounties," he said.

Mount classmates are big contributors to the team, Kevin Kalis said.

"You really make a connection with the people there, and they become lifelong friends," he said. "It's one of the unspoken great qualities about the Mount. You really forge lifelong friendships."

Even students Kevin has never met sometimes sign up to participate, he said. A few current Mount St. Mary's students are signed up this year.

Kalis attributes such enthusiasm to the "trickle-down of people feeling good about donating to a special cause."

Details about the Polar Bear Plunge, Maggie's Mounties, donation information and sponsoring a plunger can be found here.