Cape Gazette


More and more bears keep coming to the plunge

Thousands set fundraising record for Special Olympics Delaware
By Ron MacArthur | Feb 04, 2014
Photo by: Ron MacArthur Runners sprint into the water for the Polar Bear Plunge, but they run even faster on the way out. The jolt of nearly freezing ocean water can be seen on plungers' faces as they sprint toward the sand.

Rehoboth Beach — Over the past two decades, the Lewes Polar Bear Plunge benefitting Special Olympics Delaware has grown from it inaugural event attracting 78 plungers to the 2014 event where 3,252 polar bears jumped into the Atlantic Ocean.

A record amount of money – more than $725,000 – was raised on Feb. 2 during a weekend of festivities in Rehoboth Beach.

No one could have predicted just how far the Polar Bear Plunge would go after the first event took place in 1992 in Cape Henlopen State Park. The Lewes Polar Bears Club partnered with Special Olympics Delaware to allow one of its five plunges to be a fund raiser for the organization. The club has been taking dips into the ocean at the park five times a year over the winter months since 1982.

Overall, the event has raised more than $7.5 million to support Special Olympics programs and athletes in Delaware.

The first six events took place at the park until it literally outgrew the venue and moved to Rehoboth Beach with more parking and more beach access.

The coldest event took place in 1995 when the air temperature registered 0 degrees with the wind-chill at minus-25. Even so, the event went on, and 339 polar bears braved the conditions to take a fast jump into the water.

Over the past two decades, the event has been postponed twice because of bad weather: in 1998 because of a nor'easter and in 2010 due to twin snowstorms in early February that dropped as much as two feet of snow throughout the state.

The weekend festival has grown to include cooking contests, ice-sculpting contest, family activities, the 5K Run to the Plunge and the Pooch Plunge. Organizers estimate more than 20,000 spectators line the Boardwalk to watch the event. And because the plunge coincides with Super Bowl Sunday, it's become a major off-season boost to the beach economy.




First event: 1992 with 78 polar bears

2009: First weekend festival, 2,923 polar bears raise $490,000

2011: 20th anniversary, 3,094 polar bears raise $550,000

2014: Records fall with 3,252 polar bears who raise $725,000

Overall: The event has raised more than $7.5 million over 23 years

This year: Air temperature, 50 degrees; water temperature, 34 degrees



Lewes Polar Bear Plunge
(Video by: Nick Roth)
It's a mad dash into the Atlantic Ocean as some of the more than 3,250 plungers prepare to take a quick dip. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
Kylie Nicholson, right, and her friend, Courtney Lester, of Middletown can't wait to get out of the 34-degree ocean water. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
Compared to most years, the 2014 Lewes Polar Bear Plunge is downright pleasant with an air temperature nearing 60 degrees. Mary Zeman of Magnolia poses with the official sign as a member of the Delaware Eye Care Center team. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
Long-time polar bears (l-r) Ken, Shannon and Kelly Kreider always come sort-of dressed for the occasion. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
Peter Pizzollongo, left, and Carlos Prugue, of Wilmington and Rehoboth Beach, are ready for the plunge. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
Special Olympics athlete Jeremy Eglit of Millville is ready to do his 13th plunge. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
Friends Kala Nuss, left, and Aria DiLiberto of Newark are ready for a dip in the ocean. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
Joe DeRosa of Wilmington has been doing the event for the past 11 years. This year three other generations of his family accompanied him in his quick jump into the Atlantic Ocean. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
Did Gene Simmons make an appearance at the Polar Bear Plunge? No, it's Jeremy Coleman of Dover who dressed up as his favorite rocker. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
Roger Raney hands out beads on the Boardwalk prior to the plunge. He's a member of the patriotic James T. Vaughn Correctional Center team. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
Members of the Delaware Hooligans ham it up before taking the plunge. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
The Kiss Team poses for photos near the official Polar Bear Plunge sign. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
Wendy Schadt, left, and Joanne Kempton are members of the Lewes Ladies Looney Tunes Team. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
In their real lives, Matt Rahe, left, and Mia Rahman are probation and parole officers. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
Thousands of plungers, friends and family members signed large posters on the Boardwalk taking a pledge not to use the "r" word. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
Family members and friends pose for a photograph before heading to the beach. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
How far the imagination can stretch is the only limit on what Polar Bears wear on plunge day. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
Kelly Ryser of Newark walks along the plunge line a few minutes before the rush begins. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
Cape Henlopen students gather on the beach for a group photograph before the plunge. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
A member of the Delaware Hooligans team gets the crowd fired up. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
Aria DiLiberto gives a lift to her friend, Kala Nuss, as they get ready for the plunge. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
Anticipation builds to a fever pitch during the final few seconds before it's time to hit the water. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
It's always a stampede on the beach during the Lewes Polar Bear Plunge. The actual plunge is over in a few minutes. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
After jumping into 34-degree ocean water, plungers retreat to wrap up in towels. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
Waves knock down some Polar Bears as they try to run out of the cold ocean. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
One of the best-dressed teams is representing the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
The Delaware Hooligans seem to be scoffing at the 34-degree ocean. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
Aerial images recorded the scene at the Polar Bear Plunge. (Courtesy of: TJ Redefer)
Thousands plunged into the frigid Atlantic Ocean at the Lewes Polar Bear Plunge. (Courtesy of: TJ Redefer)
Plungers prepare to make the leap into the cold water. (Courtesy of: TJ Redefer)
Thousands gather on the beach before plunging into calm but near icy ocean waters. (Photo by: Dennis Forney)
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