Penguin Plungers get cold for a cause

Stephan Toljan, Senior Staff Writer

If walking out into ice cold temperatures isn’t enough of a shock, try jumping into ice cold water.

The Penguin Plunge took place on Feb. 3 at Lake Champlain. This event has been held for 24 years and raises money for Special Olympics Vermont, who supports athletes with intellectual disabilities in Vermont..

Danny Collins plunged for Vermont Flannel said the water had a paralyzing effect.

“It was so cold, and we had bathrobes on that weighed, like, 75 pounds when they got wet,” he said. “I didn’t think it was going to be as bad as it was, I came up and I couldn’t breathe for the first three seconds.”

Plungers, 1,200 in total, spend anywhere from 1-10 seconds in the water before running back up the boat ramp, grabbing a towel from a volunteer and into the changing tent.

In order for people to be able to jump into the frozen-solid Lake Champlain, event staff had to melt a section of the water.

To start, event staff directs the first groups, usually about five at a time, to the changing tent, which is where plungers change out of their warm winter gear and into their costumes.

Some plungers, like participants from Burlington Rugby wore their team uniforms.

Lindsay Hennekey, the wife of one of the Burlington Rugby plungers, has been supporting the event for seven years with her husband.

“[The team] goes really slow; they march in,” she said. “That’s why I’ll never do it, but I like to take pictures for them.”

Other plungers jumped in just bathing suits, like participants from the Champlain Valley School District.

Although first-year student Aida De la Cruz didn’t attend, she said that she would have plunged had she been there.

“It’s just one of those things that you do once to say that you’ve done it,” she said.

According to the Penguin Plunge website, participants must raise a minimum of $150 prior to the event in order to qualify.

Businesses who participate include Union Mutual, who raised over $40,000 for the plunge this year, the largest in the event’s history.

Together with individual donations, the event was able to raise over $500,000.

Sasha Fisher and her team of nine other SOVT staff members raised over $31,000 for the fundraiser, she said.

“The Penguin Plunge is an opportunity to support people in the community who haven’t been given the opportunity to participate in meaningful sport opportunities,” she said. “It’s an honor to plunge into ice cold water in order to allow the athletes to shine.”