2008-01-04 / Front Page

Penguins brave cold for plunge at Mackerel Cove

Benefit raises $83,000 for Special Olympics
By Michaela Kennedy

Hardy souls filled the town beach at Mackerel Cove to participate in the annual Penguin Plunge at the stroke of noon on New Year's Day. Photo by Don Miller Hardy souls filled the town beach at Mackerel Cove to participate in the annual Penguin Plunge at the stroke of noon on New Year's Day. Photo by Don Miller Hundreds of spectators and participants gathered at Mackerel Cove once again on New Year's Day for the Jamestown Penguin Plunge. The 2008 event marked 31 years of frosty fund raising efforts to benefit Special Olympics Rhode Island.

Enthusiasts jumped between freezing raindrops as the digital clock counted down the seconds towards noon. Beer and champagne flew over scantily-clad bodies. Bundled onlookers shivered at the sight. The local fire department and Emergency Medical Services were on hand in case of accidents. No one seemed to notice that the timer stopped at 8:24.

Mike McGovern, executive director for Special Olympics R.I., reported the next day that money was still coming in, and $83,000 was expected to be raised to support the statewide program. "We are just about where we were last year in our fundraising," he said. T-shirts were made for the cause, and close to 600 were sold, he added.

The weather was gray and rainy on New Year's Day, but that did not keep any of these Penguin Plunge participants from taking a dip in the freezing bay waters. John Kelly, far right, has been a plunge regular for the last 31 years. Photos by Sam Bari and Andrea von Hohenleiten The weather was gray and rainy on New Year's Day, but that did not keep any of these Penguin Plunge participants from taking a dip in the freezing bay waters. John Kelly, far right, has been a plunge regular for the last 31 years. Photos by Sam Bari and Andrea von Hohenleiten McGovern estimated about 600 participants donated funds and went in the water, but most of the people on the beach came down just to watch. Without saying the words, McGovern hinted that spectators can donate to the cause, even if they don't jump in the water. "The money goes toward our general operating budget for the year," he explained.

During course of the year, 20 different sports are offered for special Olympians. "Next week our skiing program begins at Yawgoo Valley," he said. The all-state summer games are held every spring at the University of Rhode Island, usually the weekend after Memorial Day. A good chunk of the money donated from the Plunge, at least $25,000, is flagged for competitions, medals, and training programs for coaches. "Six or seven sports are offered at the event, and about 1,200 to 1,500 athletes stay at the university," McGovern noted.

Those anticipating the frigid waves shared their thoughts before the plunge.

Fire department volunteer Lynn Merten said, "Everyone should do it just because you can. It's an adrenalin rush to get the blood running at the start of the year. A lot of people are doing it for a fabulous cause."

"I've done this for six years, and I am happy to support America through this event, " said Gemma Guinguing from the Philippines, now an American citizen and Miss Deaf R.I.

Peter Brockmann, a local attorney, reflected on his years of participation. "This is my 12th year. We get down early and do a lot of prepping. This year, prepping involved Bloody Marys. Once you get there there's no turning back. It's a lot of fun, a little craziness for the New Year." Brockmann, together with his brothers-in-law and cousins, raised about $500 for the fund.

John Kelly, of Jamestown, wears his lucky penguin hood, sent to him from a friend in New Orleans about eight years ago. "I'm one of the original Penguins. I've been doing this since 1976. I always make sure an ambulance is here," he said. Kelly added that a computer glitch kept him from getting donations from his family and friends, but he would make sure the word gets out early for next year's fund-raising attempts.

Stephen Furtado, of North Main Road, found the weather to his liking. "It's my 16th year, and it's balmy," he said.

Scott Masterson of the Jamestown EMS explained his reason for staying dry. "I did the plunge for 10 years, and I finally smartened up. Now I volunteer for emergencies."

By 1 p.m., the beach was back to its original form and there was not a penguin left in sight, although there were most likely a lot of warm showers running in Jamestown.

Return to top