N.H. Penguin Plunge Raises Over 571K for Special Olympics

HAMPTON — Against all human instinct, more than 1,000 Granite Staters took a dip in the Hampton Beach waters for the 11th Annual Penguin Plunge this past weekend.
The two-day event was held to benefit New Hampshire Special Olympics and as it has progressively grown each year, it has become the state chapter’s largest fund-raising event.
Red as a strawberry, Kaylee Huckins of Canterbury made her way to a heated tent to change out of wet clothes after her first Penguin Plunge.
“The experience lived up my expectations, and then some,” Huckins said.
Huckins came to the event with co-workers from her physical therapy office, and said the plunge not only was a nice way to help the Special Olympics, but it also was a great experience to have shared with her colleagues.
It also was Lisa Weatherbee of Weare’s first time taking plunge to honor her daughter, who is a Special Olympic athlete.
“So far this has been really fun just to watch people and to be part of the event,” said Weatherbee, minutes before she took the dip. “It’s pretty crazy. You think you’re going to die and you’re so pumped up about it.”
Sunday’s Penguin Plunge featured three “waves” of plungers to make sure everyone had enough space as they raced in and out of the water.
Hampton Fire Deputy Chief Steve Benotti said safety was a concern, which is why emergency fire department staff waded in the water wearing wet suits to keep an eye out for injuries.
Benotti said protecting the plungers not only was a job for the 16 Hampton Fire Department staff on duty Sunday, but also for 15 fire department volunteers throughout the state who came to support Special Olympics.
“Over the years we haven’t had any major injuries,” said Benotti. “The most common thing we see is twisted ankles or people who don’t realize they’re allergic to the cold conditions.”
A costume parade before the plunge, which featured men wearing Speedos, both men and women in bikini swimsuits, clown outfits, and plenty of others in decorative garb helped put the event into gear. The parade also gave spectators a chance to see the “Chilly Willies,” “Live Freeze or Die,” and a variety of other spirited teams.
Mark Dunn, an employee at Rockingham County House of Corrections, came to the event with fellow co-workers in orange prison uniforms. Participating in the larger “Gang Green and the Funky Fuzz” group, which was made up of state troopers, local police officers, and civilians, Dunn said the event was all about having fun and giving back.
“Anytime you can get this many people together for a positive cause, it’s worth it,” Dunn said. “I’m absolutely willing to sacrifice being cold for an hour for this.”
Bill Jones of Bedford, also known as “Captain Plunger,” is a board member of the New Hampshire Special Olympics and has participated in the Penguin Plunge all 11 years, raising a total of $54,000.
Jones gets his nickname from the helmet covered in plungers he wears every year, and says his role in the event is iconic. His daughter is a member of the Bedford Bobcats Special Olympic team, the group Jones plunged for.
Enjoying a couple of beers in a rented limo after his dive with friends, Jones said he is one of 17 who has participated in the event all 11 years.
“We look forward to the event every year because it’s just such a good group of people,” Jones said.
Missy Rodriguez of Canaan coaches the Upper Valley Hawks Special Olympics team, and said she took the plunge in Vermont the day before for the Vermont chapter of the organization.
“It’s cold, but basically it’s just a big party,” Rodriguez said.

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