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Penguin Plungers Chill Out for Good Cause

Hundreds dash into waves at Ocean Beach Park

The Coast Guard may have an established method for braving cold water; a crowd of hundreds of do-gooders does not.

Most participants in this year’s New London Penguin Plunge had similar strategies today: dash into the waves, then immediately turn around and flee for the sanctuary of towels, dry clothes, and the indoors. Others chose to lounge around in the water for awhile, and a few were helped by firefighters and police officers on hand in cold water suits. One plunger did an impressive flip into a breaker.

“It doesn’t count as a plunge unless you dunk your head,” joked Joe Carlone, assistant director of the Law Enforcement Torch Run, who started each wave on their short run into the waves.

Jackie Turro, director of development with Special Olympics Connecticut – Eastern Region, said over 300 people had registered online by Saturday night. With winds significantly lowering the air temperature, the crowd was broken into groups of about 50 so plungers could quickly return to the Port n Starboard conference center.

“Everyone’s really excited to be here,” said Turro. “They know it’s for a good cause.”

The annual event raises funds to support the Special Olympics, which will put on their regional games in May at Stonington High School. Individuals must raise at least $50, and people may also register in teams. Prizes are awarded for the best costumes, groups that raise the most funds, and several other categories.

A group of English teachers from ran into the ocean with a “Gnomeo and Juliet” theme, paper cone hats and all. One teacher, who only gave his name as Sully, said he was motivated out of “psychotic dementia” and the desire to do “something that’s a little quirky.” Nancy Rogers, another teacher, was running the event for fourth year.

“You go numb, and it hurts for a few seconds, and then you get comfortable,” she said. “And that’s when you get out.”

Greg Smith, president of New London County Rugby, and his teammates had their bodies painted to represent penguins. Smith was also doing the event for the fourth time, and said the club tries to participate in charity events and puts on a match to benefit charity each year as well. The paint idea came after one member tried it last year; unfortunately, it didn’t provide any insulation.

“The worst part is getting out of the water,” he said, “because you’re wet and the wind is blowing.”

C.J. Knudsen, a front office worker with the Connecticut Tigers minor league baseball team out of Norwich, was doing the event for the first time. He said he felt the brief period of cold was worth supporting the cause, and felt it would also strengthen the team’s ties to the community.

“Hopefully we’ll make it an annual event,” he said.

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