Taking the plunge
The penguin gods must have been smiling down on the island on New Year’s Day. Never in the 35-year history of the annual Jamestown Penguin Plunge has the temperature risen above 50 degrees. At last year’s plunge, the temperature hovered around 10 degrees; this year, despite a blizzard just a week before, the temperature at Mackerel Cove Beach reached 54 degrees.
“This is more people than I have ever seen,” said Tracy Garabedian, who has been the director of events management for Special Olympics Rhode Island for the past 13 years. The plunge remains one of the Special Olympics’ biggest fundraisers, and this year, the warm weather and clear blue skies attracted more participants and earlier arrival times, resulting in the largest donation total yet. It raised $60,000 and brought the 35-year total above $2 million.
Spectators and plungers came by foot, car, motorcycle, bus, bicycle and limo. By 10 a.m., Mackerel Cove was a sea of picnics and partying. There were barbecues, babies, bikinis, balloons and beer. Flip-flops replaced boots and cloth robes replaced down-filled jackets.
Nearly 100 members and friends of Coventry’s Hopkins Hill Fire Department arrived by two buses donated by DATTCO. According to Fire Chief Frank Brown, firefighters from his department have been taking the plunge for over a decade. They raised $7,100 this year and more than $52,000 since they began participating.
“The men and women take the plunge with their fire hats on,” Brown said, who mentioned that they take the dip in memory of the firefighters who died in the Sept. 11 attacks. The Hopkins Hill Fire Department also brought a 25- foot inflatable penguin, which was displayed on the beach during the festivities.
East Greenwich’s Dan Scanlon and 31 of his friends also arrived by bus, all wearing chicken hats. It was the 14th year Scanlon has participated in the plunge. “We’ve helped raise $5,000 since we first started coming,” Scanlon said.
As always, Jamestown residents also contributed to the cause. Peter Brockmann, president of the Jamestown Chamber of Commerce, arrived with his group by limo. It’s the 15th year that Brockmann attended the plunge, and says his secret is getting a good night’s sleep.
The Drummond family, who moved to Jamestown this year, decided to take the plunge as first-year residents. Frank and his wife Chris brought their five children: Josh, Aaron, Matt, Jessica and Nick.
Island architect Ron DiMauro, along with friends Merri Russo, Greg Pearson and Crystal Dymon, took the plunge for the second year in a row.
Also making an appearance was the lovely bikini clad Lynne Diamonte, 2010 Mrs. Rhode Island.
Jeff Butler emceed the event. His company, New England Audio Video, donated the sound system to the Special Olympics. He has been volunteering for Special Olympics for 30 years, but 2011 was the first time he has worked the plunge.
Jamestown resident Jake Froberg, 8, plunged for the first time of his life on New Year’s Day. The “third-generation plunger” raised over $400 for the Special Olympics.
The Penguin Plunge wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the devotion of Jamestown’s finest: the Jamestown Emergency Medical Services, and the Jamestown Police and Jamestown Fire Departments. According to Dan Reilly of JEMS, there hasn’t been too many incidents at the plunge over the years, and this New Year’s Day went without incident.
One of the dangers is the misconception of certain plungers who drink alcohol because they believe it will raise their body temperature and help them sustain the frigid water.
“Drinking [alcohol] is a blood thinner,” Reilly said. “It brings the body temperature down.”
Reilly also said that alcohol causes people to make bad decisions and poor judgment calls. The water temperature can get as low as 36 degrees in winter, so JEMS recommends plungers take no longer than a four-minute dip. JEMS’s biggest concern is having someone suffer from hypothermia.
Deputy Fire Chief Ken Gladding, along with 15 volunteer firefighters, stood ready to assist any plunger in distress. Gladding said the fire department had two firefighters in wetsuits wading in the waters ready to bring in any bather who got into trouble. Gladding also noted that the department had an ice sled, which could rescue any plunger in need by extracting them out of the frigid waters and bringing them back to safety.
As for the Jamestown Police Department, it faced a challenge of its own – traffic. Parking has always been a problem at the plunge, police said, and once the parking lot in front of Mackerel Cove fills up, vehicles line up along Hamilton Avenue and Southwest Avenue, eventually filling up the entrance to Fort Getty. When the plunge is over, there is a huge vehicle exodus. This year, although traffic was slowed to a crawl, police ensured a safe exit. According to Lt. Angela Deneault of the JPD, the traffic was moving well and was under control. The only problem that police addressed was the lack of portable toilets. They said that they hope some would be donated for 2012.
The Jamestown Penguin Plunge is made possible through the generous contributions and hard work of everyone involved in the project. The funds raised are vital to help disabled people participate in sports, and the island’s New Year’s Day tradition remains a great way to start the new year off on a generous foot.