Special Olympics falls short of Polar Bear Plunge goal

Every year the Polar Bear Plunge draws a crowd (Courtesy of Special Olympics Maryland/Steve Ruark)

WASHINGTON – When Saturday’s cold weather canceled the Polar Bear Plunge at Sandy Point State Park in Maryland for the first time in its 18-year history, Special Olympics had not met its fundraising goal of $2.5 million.

More than 7,000 people planned to strip down to their bathing suits and dash into the waters of the Chesapeake Bay for the charity before organizers canceled the event.

But by the time the decision was made to cancel, only $1.5 million in donations had been pledged.

Organizers say supporters can still help Special Olympics Maryland make its fundraising goal by contributing online.

Typically, the popular January event is a cold one. This year brought sub-freezing temperatures and windy conditions.

“Winds picked up to between 25 to 35 mph. We were dealing with 3- to 4-foot crests in the Chesapeake Bay,” says Jason Schriml, vice president of communications and brand management with Special Olympics of Maryland.

Additionally, the rough surf dumped chunks of slushy snow and ice onto the beach.

While Schriml says the organization took some ribbing and criticism that it had “wimped out,” he says guaranteeing the safety of participants was a primary concern.

Schriml says monitoring the few “super plungers” who took part was one thing, but ensuring the safety of thousands of volunteers of all ages in those conditions meant officials had to evaluate the situation.

The “super plungers” who signed up to plunge once an hour for 24 hours started at 10 a.m. Friday and finished by 10 a.m. Saturday. Schriml says they would have nearly finished their event by the time the large crowds would have taken part.

It was a tough call to cancel the event.

“Once we consulted with Maryland State Police and the Maryland Park Service, they closed the beach and we had to cancel the event,” he said.

Schriml says the dedication of the Super Plungers was amazing. They set up tents along the beach where they were monitored hour-by-hour.

“I was in awe that they would look outside the tent and say, ‘We can do this, no problem!'”

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report. Follow @KateRyanWTOP and @WTOP on Twitter.

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