Penguin Plunge: Come on in, the water's fine!

Stoddard Young, center, a student at Mitchell College, runs out of the water after taking part in the annual New London Penguin Plunge for Special Olympics Connecticut at Ocean Beach Park in New London on Sunday.

New London - This year, for some, it was less the Penguin Plunge than it was the Penguin Lollygag.

Usually, of course, the rule of the day for this annual fundraiser for Special Olympics Connecticut is to jump quickly in and out of the winter water at Ocean Beach Park. That's the plunge part, with the emphasis on quick.

But on Sunday, with spring in the air and water temperatures approaching, by some accounts, 40 degrees, some of the penguins actually stayed in the water a bit.

The team for Rings End Lumber, for instance, was the first group in the water and at least one team member even hung out a bit to float, toes up, like it was a Sunday afternoon in August.

Members of the team Frozen Assets, which is what a group of Navy divers from the Submarine Base called themselves, actually stayed in long enough to pose for group pictures and engage in a splash fight. Even in the bright Sunday sunshine, the splashing looked cold. The team raised $3,000 for Special Olympics.

Jason Sayz, a Frozen Assets spokesman, said this was his 17th year doing the winter plunge fundraiser, which he's done at various places around the state, and that Sunday's almost-balmy weather was probably the best he's ever experienced.

Still, there were some "chickens" in the chicken coop, a pen area set up near the water for people who raised money for the event but didn't want to go in the water.

And lots of people, including the male Mitchell College student wearing a long red ball gown, and the fellow with the spear dressed like Neptune, seemed to keep a pretty fast pace in and out of the water.

The event this year was a success, according to Jackie Turro, director of development for special Olympics Connecticut Eastern Region, who said 280 plungers registered. Turro said the event raised $65,000 this year.

In addition to the many who took the plunge, there were also hundreds of visitors. The parking lot at Ocean Beach looked more like a hot summer weekend than a Sunday in February.

Some of the early arrivals were corrections officers and their families who turned out for a tailgate picnic, including fried egg sandwiches and sausage fresh from the barbecue grill.

The corrections officers raised about $1,500, according to Lt. Eric Dessaules, who was helping to supervise the tailgating Sunday.

d.collins@theday.com

Dressed as Smurfs, Claudia Wiersch, right, assists her 83-year-old mother Joan Weigle, after the two, both of Quaker Hill, ran into the water Sunday during the New London Penguin Plunge for Special Olympics Connecticut at Ocean Beach Park. Weigle had not planned on completely going in, but fell and was assisted up by volunteer diver Ron Samul Jr., background, of New London.
Dressed as Smurfs, Claudia Wiersch, right, assists her 83-year-old mother Joan Weigle, after the two, both of Quaker Hill, ran into the water Sunday during the New London Penguin Plunge for Special Olympics Connecticut at Ocean Beach Park. Weigle had not planned on completely going in, but fell and was assisted up by volunteer diver Ron Samul Jr., background, of New London.
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