November 17, 2013

Record numbers turn out for Plattsburgh Polar Plunge


PLATTSBURGH — A bathrobe was the costume of choice for Faust D’Angelo at the fourth-annual Plattsburgh Polar Plunge Saturday afternoon.

The SUNY Plattsburgh student was one of more than 400 participants who lined up along the shore of Plattsburgh City Beach, ready to dash into the waters of Lake Champlain to raise funds for the New York Special Olympics.

“I didn’t feel like bringing a towel and I thought a bathrobe would be like wearing a towel and I’d be all comfy,” D’Angelo said.

D’Angelo said he wasn’t concerned about the mid-40-degree water temperature predicted by the National Weather Service, having jumped into cooler waters before.

The 2012 Polar Plunge had seen heavy winds and a lower temperature than the 2013 event, leaving many former plungers thankful for the calm skies.

For polar plunger Jerry Blair, the weather above the water was a bigger concern than the temperature below.

“The wind is not here today and that’s huge,” Blair said.

Along with 19 other team members, Blair took the plunge as an employee and representative for the special education unit of Champlain Valley Educational Services.

While some runners went up to their waists before turning back, others took to the water as they might have on a warm summer day.

Such was the case for SUNY Plattsburgh students and Long Island lifeguards James Hernon, Jacob Otto, Patrick Tucker and John Keenan.

The four students were the last polar plungers to leave the water, roughly 10 to 15 minutes after the starting signal.

Coming back to shore, the group said that the plunge had been the result of weeks of training.

“We’ve been doing cold showers only,” Hernon said.

Each team member would try to endure the cold temperatures for as long as possible in addition to a regular exercise routine.

The students were also members of the Alpha Chi Rho fraternity, one of a number of Greek Life groups that participated in the event.

Organizer Erin McCartan said she appreciated the growing support from the SUNY Plattsburgh students and from the community in general.

“Once people come, they’re hooked and they come back from year to year.”

While last year’s Polar Plunge had 282 total participants, 380 participants had pre-registered for the 2013 plunge. McCartan estimated that same-day registrations brought the total to between 400 and 450.

Along with participation, the amount raised at the event grew as well. Though the final amount was still being calculated Saturday afternoon, McCartan said she expected the total to be just short of $50,000, topping the previous record of $41,000.

“Sometimes the North Country gets called one of the smaller polar plunges, but we’re definitely making a name for ourselves,” McCartan said, explaining that the Special Olympics hosts 14 polar plunges across New York state.

For polar plunger Matthew Thomson, those donations represent the chance to continue competing in basketball at Special Olympics events.

Thomson, who has Down syndrome, has been competing in the Special Olympics for 10 years after first competing in high school. He said he appreciated the good turnout for the event.

“It was a good idea to do it and it was a nice day to do it.”

Both Thomson and McCartan encouraged any donors who came to the event to attend a Special Olympics competition themselves. Beyond the physical and social benefits to the athletes, the cheerful atmosphere of the events often leaves a strong impression on audience members, McCartan said.

“Once they’ve been there once and met our athletes, they want to come to everything,” McCartan said.