Take the plunge

Published 10:19 pm Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Virginia Beach oceanfront hosts thousands of tourists each year, sunbathing on the warm sand and swimming in the balmy water.

But in February? In swimsuits? And you have to raise money to do it?

Most people might say the people who participate in the Polar Plunge, held every February to benefit Special Olympics Virginia, are slightly off their rockers. However, they call it “freezin’ for a reason.”

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“The Polar Plunge is our largest annual fundraiser,” said Holly Claytor, director of public relations for Special Olympics Virginia. “We hope to bring in a million dollars this year. It’s a huge event for us.”

The Polar Plunge will be held this year on Feb. 6 between 6th and 9th streets on the Virginia Beach oceanfront. More than 3,200 thrill-seekers are expected to brave the chilly Atlantic Ocean wearing nothing but swimsuits and zany costumes. Additional activities include a Friday Night Plunge Party, featuring a concert, cornhole tournament, food and more. On Saturday, activities include costume parades and contests, ice carvings and sand sculptures, a winter festival, and plenty of hot food and beverages to warm the plungers up after the big event. New this year, there will be a Kiddie Plunge into a shallow pool filled with ice cubes and rubber ducks.

All the activities benefit Special Olympics Virginia, which provides physical and social enrichment for people with intellectual disabilities. In Suffolk, athletes can compete in sports such as swimming, bowling, tennis, golf, volleyball and power lifting. The athletes practice, qualify for and compete in Olympic games each year, and receive medals for winning.

About 100 Special Olympics athletes will take the plunge with the rest of the plungers.

“The interesting thing about Plunge is everyone can do it,” Claytor said. “It’s crazy, full of costumes, and it’s fun.”

In addition to providing about one-third of Special Olympics Virginia’s annual budget, the event also provides increased visibility and community connections for the organization, Claytor said.

“People actually plunge hand in hand with our athletes,” Claytor said. “For the general public to be able to have that experience alongside our athletes is neat, I think.”

The first Polar Plunge was held in 1993, when 34 plungers raised about $8,000 for Special Olympics Virginia. Last year’s event raised about $850,000 from more than 2,000 plungers. In addition, a greater online presence has developed with technology, enabling people to raise money entirely online if they want.

“We have clearly come a long way,” Claytor said. “We are hoping to hit our million dollar goal this year.”

Registrations are accepted through the day of the event, Claytor said.

“Anyone can continue to register to plunge up until plunge day,” Claytor said. “If somebody decides they want to do it at noon on Feb. 6 and they have $100, come on down.”

For more information, visit www.polarplunge.com.