More than 600 participants braved frigid waters as they took part in the Polar Plunge at Tobay Beach in Massapequa on Saturday to raise funds for Special Olympics New York. NewsdayTV's Shari Einhorn reports. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

Anyone who thought the first week of spring would be a warm time for a Polar Plunge was proved wrong Saturday at Tobay Beach in Massapequa, where hundreds of brave souls raised money for Special Olympics New York.

At more than 600 participants, Saturday’s plunge was the largest in the 10 years the organization has partnered with the Town of Oyster Bay for the event. The proceeds will fund training and competition for Special Olympics athletes participating in 23 different sports on Long Island, organizers said.

“It’s incredible because it promotes inclusion,” said Rebecca Hoffman, director of development for Special Olympics New York. “Everyone came out to raise awareness of that message.”

Many of the more than 5,500 athletes who participate in Special Olympics on Long Island are currently training for the Spring Games in Farmingdale on May 6. 

Jessica Spitz, of Commack, one of the athletes to hop in the bay, shared with the crowd just how much the organization has meant to her.

“It’s given me so many incredible opportunities, not just sports-wise, but also in life,” she said, noting how it moved her to see hundreds of people lined up to take the plunge into the 43-degree water.

Participants were visibly nervous under the gray skies with temperatures in the low 40s, but Special Olympics volunteer Sienna Silvia, of Long Beach, remained as cool as the wind blowing across the beach in the minutes leading up to the swim.

“Ever since I was a little kid, I could withstand cold temperatures,” she said. “I’m like a fish … or a polar bear.”

The proceeds from Saturday's Polar Plunge at Tobay Beach will fund...

The proceeds from Saturday's Polar Plunge at Tobay Beach will fund training and competition for Special Olympics athletes participating in 23 different sports on Long Island, organizers said. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Many of the participants came from organizations that partner with Special Olympics, including Island school districts, Scouting groups and law enforcement. (Special Olympics serves athletes with intellectual disabilities.)

Members of the Nassau County Police Department’s Bureau of Special Operations were among the first to sprint into the frigid water and they remained in the longest, chanting BSO as they counted the minutes.  Dozens of student plungers from Commack High School sported school gear, and the Massapequa swim team, which proudly noted raising $1,700 for the event, wore matching swimsuits. Even Oyster Bay Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino took a quick lap. 

“This is local in the community and it brings everyone together,” Hoffman said.

Some also traveled a short distance, even if they were not certain they could bring themselves to jump in. Retired NYPD Officer Carlos Rosado, of the Bronx, was hopping and shouting to keep himself motivated for his first plunge. He was there to swim alongside his daughter, Christina Romero, of Rockland County, an NYPD officer and member of the department volleyball team. Asked if they had regrets as they felt the cold temperature on their skin, the duo answered with a simultaneous “definitely.”

Minutes later, smiles stretched across their faces as they dried off.

“I’d do it again,” the father shouted.

“I would too,” his daughter replied.

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