Staff photo by Benton Sampson
Mascot Icy the Bear encourages participants in the 7th Annual Polar Plunge before their chilly dip in the ocean at Carolina Beach to benefit the Special Olympics. Below: About 400 people take a chilly dip in the ocean.
The 7th Annual Polar Plunge didn’t exactly live up to its name Saturday, since the temperature rose to about 75 degrees. However, the ocean was significantly colder as intrepid participants rushed into the sea to raise money for the Special Olympics.
After the pandemonium of the plunge, some ran out of the waves as fast as they ran in, while others stayed in, up to their waists. One striking group in tutus and dramatic eye makeup huddled together while toweling off; that was the team from Bangz Hair Salon, which won the costume contest for the third time with its Black Swan theme.
Jonathan Batts, recreation coordinator for Special Olympics in New Hanover County, said about 400 people took the plunge, roughly as many as last year. However, at least 1,000 people came to watch them; he credited the nice weather for the bigger crowd.
Along with all the not-so-ordinary citizens who participated, a number of community leaders dove into the activity, including Tim Markley, superintendent of New Hanover County Schools, as well as Joel Macon and Tim Owens, the mayor and town manager of Carolina Beach.
Markley said beforehand that a teacher had asked him to take the Polar Plunge, and as he had previously participated in 5k runs with other groups, he agreed to help raise awareness and funds for Special Olympics.
He added that he had grown up in Maine, where the water temperature in summer was not much higher than North Carolina’s in the winter.
In addition to the local leaders, a more widely known celebrity lent her support to the Polar Plunge. Miss North Carolina, Brittany York, appeared in her sash and tiara, although she took them off for the actual run into the waves.
"I do a lot with Special Olympics, so I’m happy to come out here in support," she said.
Batts said the 2011 Polar Plunge had raised about $35,000 for Special Olympics, as the county’s sole fundraising event for that charity. Plungers pay $50 to register and usually get sponsors, allowing thousands more people to participate through pledges.
Gerald Velie, a para-educator at Hoggard High School who serves on the Polar Plunge committee, said that all the money raised always stayed within the county to support local special-needs athletes.
Batts added that he really appreciated all the volunteers who helped with the Polar Plunge and who help the Special Olympics program.
"They’re always appreciated and always in need," he said.