31st annual plunge a soaking success
Mike McGovern, the executive director of the Rhode Island Special Olympics and organizer of the event, was pleased with the turnout at the town beach at Mackerel Cove to raise funds for the organization.
“Although the crowd of observers was a bit thin compared to past years, we had as many participants as ever,” McGovern said. “We collected over $72,000 today and I have every confidence that we’ll reach our $85,000 goal as pledges continue to come in,” he added. The rain slowed down the T-shirt sales, but he expected to sell some on the Internet to participants and supporters alike who want to commemorate their involvement and help in raising funds for the Special Olympics, McGovern said.
Although the rain was relentless, swimmers stripped down to the bare necessities and hud- dled together for the noon countdown that signaled the march of the penguins into the frothy waves. Even a few bikini-clad young ladies were spotted among the sea of shivering bodies. The countdown was more determined than it was enthusiastic, but it was loud and inspiring as wave after wave of shouting screaming and squealing participants took the plunge into 49-degree water in 45-degree air with a wind-chill factor of 38 degrees.
The rain and wind were unremitting throughout the event, but the brave, tough, and determined did not allow the foul weather to deter them from their goal. The Hopkins Hill Fire Department of Coventry wasn’t able to raise their gigantic inflatable penguin because of the high winds. The inflatable penguin has been a landmark for the annual plunge for years. However, the department was well represented, as they are every year. Woonsocket and Smithfield firefighters also braved the elements and showed up in good numbers, McGovern said.
Jamestown Police Lieutenant William Donovan sat in his cruiser at the end of the town beach for over an hour before the noon countdown, waiting to help direct traffic. “It looked as if very few were going to show up,” he said. “Then big buses pulled over to the side of the road, and pickup trucks with campers started to fill the parking area. By 11:30, finding a place to park was next to impossible. But there still didn’t seem to be many people. Fifteen minutes later, they seemed to come out of the vapor and fog. Bodies started jumping out of buses, campers, cars, and trucks and headed for the shoreline,” Donovan added. “It was amazing.”
The police lieutenant was happy to report that despite the weather the atmosphere was festive, everyone behaved, no arrests were made, no injuries, and a good time appeared to be had for a good cause.
McGovern, one of the founders of the annual event, has taken the plunge every year since its inception. Thirty-one years ago, McGovern and 12 of his friends made the New Year’s Day plunge into the icy bay waters on a lark. They did it for a dare. Their initial plunge grew into this major fund-raising event that made the Rhode Island Special Olympics what it is today, an organization of which Rhode Island is very proud, McGovern said.