The 26th Annual Special Olympics Delaware Lewes Polar Bear Plunge

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Rehoboth Beach at 9 am on Polar Plunge Sunday

The 2017 annual Lewes Polar Plunge as usual was on Superbowl Sunday.  Rehoboth Beach hosts the event for the Special Olympics of Delaware.  There are activities all weekend, including chili contests, a 5k run, and other events.   This is the one time of the year in the off-season that Rehoboth Beach is as crowded as the Fourth of July.  If you arrive early in the morning around day break there are a few crews there setting up more tents.  Otherwise it is just a typical winter morning in Rehoboth Beach, an empty boardwalk with a few early joggers, walkers, and bikers.  About nine or so in the morning plungers start showing up, it is kind of strange to see people walking around the boardwalk in bathrobes that early in the morning.  If you didn’t know what was going on you would think it was a live version of People of Walmart, or that a bunch of people escaped a mental facility.


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Members of Team Sisters of the Plunge

By ten in the morning the main avenue is packed with cars and parking spaces are non-existent.  The restaurants are packed, and have waiting lists.  People in all kinds of creative costumes head to the beach to stake out a spot for their crew to meet up and plunge.  Some of these plunge teams have a lot of members.  The teams’ costumes follow a theme they came up with some of them are very creative.  There were people dressed like movie characters; Minions and Star Wars characters.  A group of ladies dressed like nuns, carrying plungers, appropriately called their team Sisters of The Plunge.  I saw king Neptune and his entourage, and a group of lobsters.  People really get into the plunge and have created characters over the years.  Every year they add more people and accessories to their costumes.


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The Rehoboth Boardwalk at 10 Am on Polar Plunge Sunday

The boardwalk was so crowded you couldn’t see from one end to the other.  Mostly everyone was crowded around the grand stand listening to the announcements.  Music coming from speakers up and down the boardwalk keep the crowd entertained and the energy increases as the day progresses.  Everyone is thinking about how cold that water is going to feel, it was forty-two degrees.  They are also running into friends they haven’t seen since the last plunge, that they have met because of the plunge.  You can smell Thrasher’s fires, popcorn for Dolleys,and the wing contest at the firehall.  The seagulls are very happy to see everyone and all of that food.  It is like summer all over again in the winter.   This Sunday by eleven in the morning it felt like a nice spring day, we had an Indian summer for the plunge.


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Governor Carney addressing the crowd at the Lewes Polar Plunge.

There were a lot of media there: TV, radio, and newspapers.  The 26th Annual Special Olympics Delaware Lewes Polar Bear Plunge really brought out the crowds.  We had state representatives in the crowd.  All day the organizers were presenting people with plaques for their support, and constantly reminding people they could donate money.  There are a few people that will collect money and match your donations, even double that donation.  Throughout the morning different people went up on the grandstand and spoke to he crowd.  We had a special guest this year, Governor John Carney attended the event.  He spoke to the crowd for a few minutes and then walked around the boardwalk meeting teams and shaking hands.  I talked to him for a minute and then took a selfie with him,  because why not.  It was my first selfie. I think I did alright, but I will have to ask the selfie king of Delaware.  The Lewes Polar Plunge brings a lot of people to Rehoboth, it was great to see the governor at such an important event, and on a Sunday.


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A fishermen and his shark catch. I told him to be careful he can’t have a shark on the boardwalk.

By noon the beach is filling up with plungers.  Some people are running around in their bathing suits, since it was so warm.  Kids were playing in the sand, building castles.  If it weren’t for all the winter coats you would think it was summer.  The day before the Polar Plunge, Andy West and Darrell O’Connor were building a sand sculpture for the plunge organizers.  Darrell is a nine time champion at the Rehoboth Beach sand sculpting contest.  Andy West is an avid sculpture and has a sand box in his back yard he uses to practice.  If you ever see any intricate sand castles on the beaches it is probably one of these guys.  The sculpture they made was full of bears and sand castles.  They had a difficult time with the sand because it was frozen that morning.  When the sand thawed out some of the sculptures had to be reworked.  This was the first year a sand sculpture was made for the plunge and it turned out pretty good despite the conditions of frozen sand and wind.


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The plungers on the way into the water … photo by Jeremy Hatley

Everyone plunges at 1 PM and by 12:45 the beach was packed with close to five thousand people.  Not only are the plungers on the beach but their friends and family.  It is always good to have someone help you get that cold sand off your feet, and help you put on warm dry clothes.  Also having a cheering section is always good for morale.  The Indian River Coast Guard 47 and the DNREC boat was out front, trooper 2 was in the air circling the event.  Scuba divers from the Delaware State Police are in the water to help anyone.  Jumping into water this cold can really shock your system.  Always good to have these folks in place in case of an emergency.  Delaware State Police are also a sponsor of the event, so they have a huge presence there, not just for safety.  A few seconds to 1 Pm and the crowd starts counting down together, the horns sound off and everyone runs, screaming into the water.  Mostly the screaming starts after they hit the water.  Some folks go all the way in and dunk under the water.  Others run into the water, hit about waist deep and run out much faster.  Some people will go in more than once, I guess for the thrill.  Because how often do you jump into the water in the winter on purpose.


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The crowd after the 26th annual Lewes Polar Plunge

All in all it was a great day, the restaurants were packed for the afternoon.  Several places had multiple bands playing throughout the day. Jon Buzby, Director of Media Relations & Program Innovations for Special Olympics Delaware sent me an email later in the afternoon, “3,602 people raised $900,000 at the Special Olympics Delaware Lewes Polar Bear Plunge. The event, which is sponsored by Wawa, took place on Feb. 5 at 1 p.m. in Rehoboth Beach. The air temperature was recorded at 52 degrees and the water 41. In its 26-year history, the event has now raised more than $10,000,000. ”    Great to see that this organization has raised so much money over the years.  I am looking forward to next year, I couldn’t plunge this year, I have that gnarly cold that has been going around for the last three plus weeks, I didn’t need to aggravate that at all.

Fish On!

Rich King
The 26th annual Polar Plunge …

Pictures from the 26th annual Polar Plunge … 

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