Festive Polar Bear Plunge spawns record fundraising wave

Warmer temperatures had a record 3,544 “Bears” making the jump into the Atlantic Ocean on Sunday for the 28th Lewes Polar Bear Plunge for Special Olympics Delaware at Rehoboth Beach. (Special to the Delaware State News/Chuck Snyder)

REHOBOTH BEACH — The Ginsburg Girls from Lewes were hoping the 2019 Lewes Polar Bear Plunge would reign supreme for Special Olympics Delaware and court a cool million.

“Guilty … for a million bucks!” ruled Joanne Kempton, captain of the six-member Ginsburg Girls, prior to Sunday’s 28th Lewes Polar Bear Plunge for Special Olympics Delaware. “We’re shooting for a million …”

While Sunday’s fundraising extravaganza fell a bit short of their seven-figure hope, Lewes Polar Bear Plunge 2019 was nonetheless record-setting as 3,544 “Bears” took the plunge and raised more than $906,000.

Sunday’s Plunge, sponsored by Wawa, eclipsed the $875,000 raised in 2018 by 3,383 Polar Bears.

Since its inception, the Lewes Polar Bear Plunge has raised more than $12 million supporting Special Olympics Delaware’s year-round program of sports training, athletic competition and related programs for over 4,200 children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

“Bears” enter the chilly Atlantic Ocean for the Lewes Polar Bear Plunge on Sunday. (Special to the Delaware State News/Chuck Snyder)

“We are thrilled with today’s event and the amount of money raised that allows us to not only continue to provide opportunities for our current athletes to train and compete in sports but also gives us additional resources to expand our efforts to recruit those not currently involved who might want the opportunity,” said Special Olympics Delaware spokesman Jon Buzby.

The Ginsburg Girls – Carla Costa, Karen Petermann, Linda Tobin, Wendy Schadt, Patty Catanzaritti and Ms. Kempton — strolled the Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk dressed as Supreme Court justices in black robes. They were armed with judge’s gavels.

“It’s the event, it’s the cause,” said Ms. Kempton, who took her ninth Polar Bear Plunge. “The six of us have been together probably for five years. And every year we do something different. Last year we were penguins.”

The year before that they dressed as nuns.

Clad in robes and armed with gavels, The Ginsburg Girls from Lewes were among the participants in Sunday’s Lewes Polar Bear Plunge for Special Olympics Delaware. From left, are Carla Costa, Joanne Kempton, Karen Petermann, Linda Tobin, Wendy Schadt and Patty Catanzaritti. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

It’s all part of the Mardi Gras-like atmosphere that has become as much a part of the Polar Bear Plunge as the cold sand and chilly Atlantic Ocean.

Throughout the morning leading up the 1 p.m. plunge time, the Rehoboth Boardwalk featured a wide variety of costumes, schemes and themes: mermaids, Batman, Superman and Superwoman, Darth Vader, Spider-Man, Tyrannosaurus Rex, among others. There were even Elvis and Freddie Mercury sightings.

Back for their ninth go-round were Sam and Nancy Lesher. Last year, the Lewes couple dressed in Philadelphia Eagle attire, both wearing No. 9 Nick Foles jerseys, Eagle scarves and gloves and dog masks hours before the Eagles topped New England’s Patriots to cop their first Super Bowl.

Sunday, the Lesher gig was striped shirts, dark sunglasses and canes, posing as sight-impaired football referees.

“It’s a last-minute decision every year,” said Mr. Lesher, who roared with laughter at the suggestion he and his wife might be Atlanta-bound later Sunday afternoon to officiate in the Super Bowl.

From Long Neck came the Leisure Point Plungers, back for more fundraising and another dip in the ocean. For team spokeswoman Nancy Pezzino, it was her 13th Plunge.

“I love it. It’s for a great cause,” said Ms. Pezzino. “My first time I came down, we were at Leisure Point and friends of ours said, ‘You’ve got to go to watch the Plunge.’ And I watched it and I said, ‘I want to do that next year.’ And I have been doing it ever since.”

“This is my third year,” said Leisure Point Plunger teammate Lorna Wohl, who was joined by Michelle Klippert, Janet Fowler, Cheryl Miller, Kaitlyn Miller, Ms. Pezzino and their support coach Steve Miller. “We all have places at Leisure Point and we’re all really good friends. We all sort of live close to each other. We just figured we’d come out and support her (Pezzino) and raise a little bit of money for a great cause. We all have friends of relatives who have special needs, folks in their family. It’s a nice way to just give something back and let them enjoy some opportunities that they might not be able to otherwise.”

At Plunge time Sunday, air temperature was a balmy 43 degrees and the water was 39 degrees.

Roxana resident John Gilman, owner of RACC Fitness, made good on his fundraising pledge and did 13 burpees – one each for every contribution of $20 or more. He spent a good deal of his time in the water totally submerged performing the burpees. He was surprised how challenging it was.

“Every time I hit the water it took my breath away,” said Mr. Gilman.

On the boardwalk, Irv Levin and wife Phyllis of Claymont canvassed donations for the Levin Matching Fund. As donations funneled in, Mr. Levin upped the ante, pledging to not just match dollar for dollar, but triple donations.

The Levin Match Fund alone has raised more than a half million dollars as a component to the Lewes Polar Bear Plunge. There are family ties.

“With a son involved in Special Olympics Delaware, Phyllis and I, as parents, want to be involved in the program,” Mr. Levin stated. “We know how worthwhile and important the organization is, and we also know the money raised is being used to support the program.”

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