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Weather Kind To New London Penguin Plunge Participants [VIDEO]

More than $65,000 raised for the Special Olympics as hundreds head to Ocean Beach Park for a dip

Wearing everything from regular swim trunks to Smurfs costumes, nrealy 300 people took a brief out-of-season jump into the surf at Ocean Beach Park on Sunday for the New London Penguin Plunge.

The annual event raises money for Connecticut’s Special Olympics. Plungers had a more comfortable climate this year, as the warm winter continued and the day dawned sunny and clear. It wasn’t exactly balmy, though. Officials announced that the air temperature was 37 degrees; the water temperature was one degree warmer.

Jackie Turro, director of development for Special Olympics Connecticut Eastern Region, said people had pledged about $40,000 online prior to the event. The total, after donations brought in on the day of the plunge were included, was more than $65,000.

A new feature added this year was the “Chicken Coop.” People who are wary of the frigid water can still be part of a team and join fundraising efforts, but remain in the closed coop area when their team heads into the ocean.

“I think we’re going to see quite a few chickens,” said Turro. “Chicken costumes, at least.”

One team, The Vermonsters, was made up almost entirely of such costumes. Brenda Cooper had the honor of wearing the sole penguin outfit.

“They’re all chickens, and I’m the only plunger,” she explained.

Cooper said the team hails from Chittenden, Vt. and that Turro’s mother is a member, so the group makes the trip to support the cause. This year, they raised about $600.

It was the first plunge for the Shoreline Roller Derby team, which was formed last year. Charlotte Gumpel-Jones, the team captain, said she has done the plunge before but that it was a first-time effort for other team members. She said the event was a good way to support the Special Olympics and also raise awareness of the roller derby team.

“I figured this year I might as well recruit a bunch of people to do it with me,” she said. “And they’re all as crazy as I am, so they said yes.”

Greg Smith, captain of New London County Rugby, also said the event helps raise awareness of the group while at the same time supporting a good cause. He said the team has also done charity events including a game to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project. The team had a goal last year of $3,000, and this year it surpassed it in online donations alone.

“We just ask people, friends and family,” said Smith. “That’s pretty much it.”

Byron Sullivan and Alex Snow were also experiencing the plunge for the first time with Team Sophie. Snow said the team is named for the a girl with Down syndrome who is the daughter of a doctor he works with.

“I know I’ve always looked at [plungers] and said, ‘Wow, there must be something wrong with them,’” said Snow.

Snow said he decided the event would be a good way to actively support the Special Olympics. Sullivan said it sounded like a fun event to attend.

“I’m excited to freeze to death,” he joked.

Prizes awarded were:

Emperor Penguin Award (top individual fundraiser): Dan Careb, $4,555.

Emperor Club Award (top fundraising group): Niantic Plunges, $5,327.

Silver Penguin Award (oldest penguins): Clifton marks, 60; Carole Moore, 60.

Arctic Hero Award (top fundraising public safety group): York Correctional Institute, $1,151

Web Surfer Award (top individual online fundraiser): Dan Careb, $4,355

Penguin on the Rocks Award (top fundraising bar/restaurant, and winner of the Patch Trophy): Hanafin's Pint Plungers: $3,656.

Rockin' Schoolhouse Award (top fundraising school): Team Viking - East Lyme: $4,575

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