REHOBOTH BEACH — The ritual happens every year.
On Sunday afternoon, thousands of “polar bears” counted down from 10 and dashed together into the Atlantic Ocean. They shrieked, they splashed and they turned back to the beach.
The organized insanity is called the Lewes Polar Bear Plunge.
According to Special Olympics Delaware spokesman Jon Buzby, 3,325 people braved the icy waters Sunday.
The event raised a record $780,000 for the organization.
Just before the plunge at 1 p.m., the Rehoboth Beach boardwalk was crowded with participants and their friends, who were armed with cameras and beach towels.
Some of the intrepid plungers who made their way to the beach were bundled up in layers. Others only wore bathrobes over their bathing suits.
Kathi and Mike DeBerger, from Rochester, New York, participated for the first time this year.
They said they’d been visiting Rehoboth Beach for a couple of years before they decided to participate.
“Every time you come here you see advertisements for it,” Mr. DeBerger said, “so you know, we said we’d give it a try.”
He was waiting on the beach in front of the Atlantic Sands Hotel five minutes before 1 p.m., while speakers played “Ice Ice Baby” in the background.
“Every year my husband says, ‘I want to be a polar bear, I want to be a polar bear,’” Ms. DeBerger said. She showed off an “I love my crazy husband” T-shirt.
“…so we’re being crazy polar bears and we’re going to go for it. It’s a beautiful day so we’re good.”
The temperature outside was 41 degrees but the Atlantic Ocean was colder — 37 degrees.
“It was awesome,” said Lisa Fish, who was sitting on a bench on Rehoboth Avenue after the Polar Bear Plunge.
“It was a little bit cold but we got used to it.”
Because their son has Down syndrome and autism, she and her husband Bob participated because they know firsthand the value of Special Olympics.
Special Olympics Delaware provides training, athletic competition and related programs for more than 3,700 children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
In 24 years, the Lewes Polar Bear Plunge has raised $8.3 million for the organization.