Polar Bear Plunge a splashy million dollar baby

Several thousand “Bears” made the plunge into the Atlantic Ocean Sunday at the 29th annual Lewes Polar Bear Plunge in Rehoboth Beach to benefit Delaware Special Olympics. Special to the Delaware State News/Chuck Snyder

REHOBOTH BEACH — Summertime warmth and sunshine lure millions to Sussex County’s beaches.

In Rehoboth Beach in the dead of winter, there’s a special reason to be freezin’ for those who brave to be cold and bold.

Sunday marked the 29th Lewes Polar Bear Plunge for Special Olympics Delaware, presented this year by Discover Bank and Wawa. It proved to be a million dollar baby.

Several hours after Punxsutawney Phil didn’t see his shadow in forecasting an early spring and about five hours before the 49ers and Chiefs squared off in Super Bowl LIV, 3,733 registered Polar Bears took the plunge, raising $1,018,000 — a single-event record.
It shattered the record $906,000 raised last year by 3,544 Bears.

“We never would have imagined that an event that in its first year raised $7,000, 29 years later would be a million-dollar event,” said Special Olympics Delaware spokesman Jon Buzby. “It just goes to show you the powerful impact our athletes have had on the state of Delaware and even beyond our borders. And just how caring and supportive our Bears and their supporters are.”

In his Polar Bear Plunge debut, Robert Samuelson of Seaford wears a GoPro Hero4 camera for the plunging participant angle for an ABC television station in Philadelphia. Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe

“In this day and age, it’s nice to have everybody come together for a positive cause,” said Wendy Schadt, a member of Six Sassy Sandy Paws, a veteran Polar Bear Plunge team from Lewes and Milton.

“It’s a wonderful event,” said Sandy Paws teammate Carla Costa: “It’s a wonderful cause. And what a great thing to do with a bunch of friends.”

As senior spokeswoman who plunged for the 10th time, Joanne Kempton of Lewes shared the Six Sassy Sandy Paws’ game plan.

“We congregate at one house. We get dressed there. We take photographs. We all pile into the cars and come on down,” she said.
“Really, it’s just the cause. And totaled up between us all over the nine to 10 years, we’ve raised over $25,000. And we’re very proud of that.”

At 1 p.m. plunge time, air temperature and ocean water temperature both stood at 42 degrees.

“Yeah, it was cold, but I like it,” said 10-year-old Jordan Harmon of Seaford, who made his Plunge debut. “It was fun.”

Jordan plunged with Robert Samuelson, who wore a GoPro camera into the water for a frigid feed to a television station in Philadelphia.

Special to the Delaware State News/Chuck Snyder

“I went out there and gave the cop a high-five!” said Mr. Samuelson, whose 12-year-old daughter Breyona also plunged. “It’s the first time, for all of us. It is just something that I’ve always wanted to do.”

In its 29-year history, the Polar Bear Plunge has now raised more than $13 million in support of Special Olympics Delaware’s year-round training, athletic competitions and related programs for more than 4,000 athletes — youths and adults — with intellectual disabilities.

Six Sassy Sandy Paws members summed up their motivation.

“It’s a great community event,” said Linda Tobin. “It’s fun to be a part of it.”

“It’s a great organization. The money goes back to Delaware,” said teammate Karen Petermann. “You can’t beat it. It’s fabulous.”

“It’s the camaraderie and the fun — and just to be able to participate in the wonderful event for a good cause,” said Pat Catanzarity.

Sunday’s event marked the 22nd plunge for Clayton resident Andrew Cherriman. Before getting wet he strolled the boardwalk dressed as a 19th century gold prospector waving a San Francisco 49ers flag.

“I’ve been there since John Brodie was quarterback. I used to watch football with my father and used to like the ‘SF’ on the helmets. I thought it stood for ‘Super Football.’ I’ve been watching them ever since,” Mr. Cherriman said. “I used to work with the Department of Corrections. And we had a group that would come down here and do it. We’d just dress up in costumes. We’d have a theme. And I’ve been doing it ever since.”