Penguins plunge into Champlain deep

The freezing winter air did not discourage the hundreds of Vermont residents that leapt into the icy water of Lake Champlain for the Penguin Plunge on Feb. 4.

Special Olympics Vermont’s annual fundraiser raises money to support the 1,005 athletes that they serve in the state, according to its website www.vtso.org.

Teams consisted of groups from local businesses in town, high schools, middle schools, surrounding universities and other groups such as the Burlington fire department. 

At 11 a.m, the announcers began calling out different waves of plungers. Teams and individuals proceeded to charge out of the tent, down the path, past the cheering spectators and into the freezing water. 

When participants came shivering out of the water, each received a complementary penguin plunge towel and rushed into the tent to change into warm clothes. 

“It was really fucking cold,” senior Daragh Kneeshaw said. Kneeshaw was part of a team from Ake’s Place, and together the 15 plungers raised close to $4,000. The team stated that even though jumping into the water is the worst feeling in the world, it is for a good cause and everyone should do it.

“You have got to do it — it’s a great experience,” UVM senior Yuri Hudak said. Hudak’s team, Team Shrivel, all expressed their opinions on how the Penguin Plunge is a great event that brings the community together for a greater purpose even though the water is freezing cold.

With 74 teammates, Lake Champlain Elementary School was the largest school team and the winner of the Cool School Challenge Grade Division said Kim Bookless, fundraising events manager for the Special Olympics. 

She also said that the winner of the Cool School Challenge — University Division, the largest group to plunge from a university, was Saint Michael’s College. The winner of the Pack of Plungers award for the largest non-school team went to the Burlington Rugby Club, she said.

The Vermont Special Olympics’ goal for the 2012 Penguin Plunge Series is $425,000, which they have already surpassed with the donations from the Burlington and North Bennington events. 

The Burlington plunge alone has raised $403,823 so far, beating their goal of $400,000 Bookless said.

With one plunge left to go at Lake Memphremagog in Newtown, Bookless said they believe the total donations for the 2012 Penguin Plunge series will top $430,000. 

This event is the biggest fundraiser for the Special Olympics, and helps to provide money for uniforms, training facilities, competitions and transportation, according to the website.

Volunteering at the event is another way to participate besides taking an icy dip, according to the website. Volunteers at the Penguin Plunge participate in site-set up, pre-plunge party assistance, souvenir sales and registration. 

Tim Brahmstedt, a Burlington resident, volunteered for the first time this year at the Penguin Plunge. When asked if he could sum up the event in one word, he simply said, “epic.”