NEW LONDON, Conn. – Costumed participants sprinted into the chilly waters of Long Island Sound at the Shoreline Penguin Plunge to raise money for Special Olympics Connecticut (SOCT), March 8.
From a local rugby team to a high school special education class and beyond, members of the community gathered at Ocean Beach Park in historic New London on a bright, sunny and relatively warm morning to jump into the cold water while raising money for Special Olympics programs throughout the state.
Sailors from Naval Submarine Base (SUBASE) New London and Cadets from the Coast Guard Academy came to volunteer their support for the event.
“We got there and met with Jackie,” said Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Alexander Garro, assigned to Patient Admin at Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Unit (NMRTU) onboard SUBASE New London. “She had a van full of supplies and we helped set up. We guided people to check in since the place had a couple different entrances.”
Hospitalman Breanna Gilligan, also assigned to Patient Admin at NMRTU, recalled volunteering at the Plunge.
“There were six or seven of us from the clinic,” said Gilligan. “We unloaded equipment and set up tables. After that we directed traffic. It was really fun! Most of the participants were in costumes and it was fun to watch.”
Volunteerism and community service was the soul and spirit of the event. The Penguin Plunge was organized as a fun way for members of the community to come together and raise money for a good cause.
“The Penguin Plunge is one of our biggest fundraisers we do every year to raise money for Special Olympics Connecticut,” said Jackie Turro, senior director of special events for SOCT, who organized the event. “We have more than 13,000 athletes across the state who practice year-round in more than 26 different sports. That costs a lot of money. All the money we raise here today goes directly to support our athletes. We expect about 200 participants today. It’s a nice warm early spring day for us, we’re very excited. We’re hoping to raise more than $35,000.”
Turro said the Penguin Plunge is one of SOCT’s largest and most popular events. Because of its revenue and popularity, SOCT strives to make every Penguin Plunge better than the last.
“We’re trying to raise money to support our programming,” said Turro. “There’s so much competition out there to raise money for all the non-profit groups so this is something that has been one of our marquis events and we try to keep improving it every year. We try to get more and more people every year. It’s a family event, a fun event, and we’re looking forward to having a bunch of people out here today.”
Among the largest teams present at the Plunge was NFA Unified from Norwich Free Academy, whose members were dressed up as Disney princesses and video game characters among other things.
“We’re a high school unified team,” said Chris Staley, the team leader who was dressed as a shark. “We have students with and without disabilities all playing together. We play sports and go to class together. It’s all to bring people together and have common cause and build those bonds of friendship. This is our second year participating. We have 20 members of our team. Our group raised $4,500 toward the Special Olympics.”
Jacob Ricketts, a member of NFA Unified, summed up the sentiment with a touch of eloquence and wit.
“The plunge is pretty cold, but it’s for a good cause,” said Ricketts. “It’s cold for a cause, you could say.”
The event saw a large turnout with a wide variety of people and organizations represented. Some were participating for the first time, while others had been plunging for years.
“We’ve been doing this more than a decade, since before my daughter Grace was born,” said Greg Smith of New London County Rugby Team. “This is her third year taking part. We always go as penguins. It’s pretty simple: just a whole lot of body paint, face paint. Our whole group is plunging!”
At the stroke of noon, the participating teams sprinted down the beach from a launching point into the frigid waters. The rugby players were the first to go, standing a player atop a tower of men before plunging and while in the water. NFA Unified followed shortly, their team so large they had to go in two waves. Other groups of people representing organizations and businesses in the community.
After the plunge was complete, the participants returned to the Pilot House room and bar where they dried off and enjoyed lunch and drinks. There, Turro thanked the participants and revealed the final stats for that day’s Penguin Plunge.
“On behalf of everyone on our staff, our board and most importantly our athletes, thank you so much for everything you do!” said Turro. “I’m very happy to announce that today you guys helped us raise a lot of money for all our athletes. There are over 13,000 of them you helped support today, year round. Right now our number is close to $36,000 that you have helped us raise, so thank you very much!”
For more information on SOCT and the Penguin Plunge, including information about participating in a future plunge, please visit https://www.soct.org/ways-give/penguin-plunge/. Sailors interested in volunteering to help set up and facilitate Penguin Plunge and events can get involved by contacting their command volunteer coordinator or contacting Public Affairs at extension 5980.