290 dive in for good cause at chilly Penguin Plunge

Tim Martin/The Day Michael Morrissey of West Hartford celebrates after he and fellow members of the HARC Team Charless jumped into the water during the Penguin Plunge at Ocean Beach Park in New London Sunday. Proceeds from the event benefit the Special Olympics of Connecticut.

New London - True penguin plungers get their hair wet.

So said volunteer Joe Carlone through his bullhorn to a crowd clustered between orange plastic netting at Ocean Beach Park late Sunday morning - a colorful band of brave souls of all ages, waiting on a cold day to jump into colder water.

The annual Penguin Plunge at Ocean Beach is one of nine such events across the state staged to raise money for the Special Olympics of Connecticut. Sunday's plunge featured 38 teams, 290 plungers in all, costumed brightly for the cause, representing local schools, sports teams and clubs.

Teams raced into the 38-degree water one group at a time at Carlone's cue. Wrapping up in no more than 20 minutes, the participants raised $50,000.

"I'm good at the bullhorn," Carlone said. "I pick on people really well."

Out in the parking lot just after 11 a.m., one group did jumping jacks to get the blood flowing, hoping the warmth would last. And later, as the crowd began trudging out across the sun-drenched beach, two friends assessed the conditions.

"It's just brisk, you know?" one woman said. "Just brisk."

Jacob Knopf of Salem, a student at East Lyme High School, was feeling grateful as he and his group waited their turn. The event had been delayed a few weeks by the snow, and this daylight savings day, spring felt imminent, at least.

"I think it'll be warm this year," he said.

Carlone faked out the first group with a stalled countdown - three, two, two - no, wait - two, one. Go!

In the water, they let out whoops and cheers, their arms raised in triumph.

Moments later, as they made their cold, dripping victory lap back up the sand, nervous would-be plungers looked on expectantly.

"It's warm!" one shouted.

Another was more honest, still reassuring.

"It's not that bad," he told them.

Members of the New London County rugby team, torsos covered in black and white penguin paint, noses orange, said they've been plunging for 11 years. While waiting his turn, Tim Johnson of Groton said he does it for two of his friends whose brothers have Down syndrome.

Teammate Pat Scanlon of Norwich, chimed in cheerfully.

"He guilted me into it," he said.

Later, another group emerged from the sea looking at home in hula skirts and leis.

"We're Hawaii Five-0," said David Kirpas of Old Lyme, dapper in a coconut bra.

"Wasn't that the best thing you ever did?" one teammate asked the group's actual island representative, Elizabeth Mohney of Groton by way of Hawaii.

"You can't even swim, the water is so cold here," Mohney said.

But was it worth it?

"It was exhilarating," she said. "I'd do it again."

a.isaacs@theday.com

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