Spectators packed Cedar Beach in Mt. Sinai on Saturday to watch more than 500 hundred plungers jump into the frigid waters of the Long Island Sound.
They plunged for a reason as the they took part in the second annual Town of Brookhaven Freezin’ for a Reason Polar Plunge, which benefits Special Olympics New York.
“It’s a rush,” said Diane Colona, the regional director of Special Olympics New York. “And that is the exact same feeling you get when you meet a Special Olympic athlete.”
Special Olympics New York is a non-for-profit organization founded in 1969 to provide free training and events for disabled adults and children. The organization hosted polar plunges in Nassau County for the last eight years, and began the Cedar Beach in Suffolk County plunge last year.
“I have an aunt who has Down Syndrome; that’s why I did it,” said Eric Pickel, 23, of Centereach. “I’m ready to go. I’m pumped.”
The actual plunge into the 52-degree water lasted only a few moments, but the proceeds from this weekend’s event will continue to benefit disabled athletes for the entire year.
Neal Johnson, the president and CEO of New York Special Olympics, estimated that this weekend’s event raised over $70,000. This year’s polar plunges across Long Island are expected to surpass the $900,000 raised by Special Olympics New York last year.
“This is my second year plunging,” said Will Ladouceur, 16, of Lake Ronkonkoma. “I think it’s a great thing to do.”
Also plunging were teams from Stony Brook University, Sayville High School and Sachem Junior High.
“The Stony Brook softball team is doing the polar plunge to support the Special Olympics,” said Bernadette Tenuro, 21, of Stony Brook. “We have worked with them in the past. Due to game conflicts, we chose [to participate in] the polar plunge.”
Although plungers ranged in age from teens to senior citizens, they all had one thing in common – a dedication to Long Island’s disabled community.
“The water wasn’t bad – the rocks were the worst part,” said Stephen Lane, 20, a Dowling College student from Philadelphia. “It raises money for a great cause and brings the community together.”