By Chris Quartarone
Hampton Union, Tuesday, February 6, 2007
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
HAMPTON -- With chants and cheers filling the air, nearly 800 people dove into the Atlantic Ocean Sunday during the eighth annual Penguin Plunge to benefit Special Olympics New Hampshire.
The event began at noon when the first wave of participants took the plunge. Thousands of people filled the beach to cheer on the swimmers.
By 11:30 a.m., more than $325,000 had been raised for N.H. Special Olympics, according to Danielle Carrier of WOKQ's Morning Waking Crew, and that number was expected to continue to rise throughout the day. Carrier and fellow morning personality Mark Ericson, both involved with the plunge for seven years, did the announcing at the event.
Larona and Gary Jarest attended the plunge to support their son who participates in Special Olympics.
"I don't think I'd ever jump in this freezing water, but this is a great event," Larona said. "The Special Olympics does such great things for my son."
Three staff members from Prospect Mountain High School in Alton did their part to raise money for N.H. Special Olympics.
"I've never done the plunge before, but wanted to do it for the kids, and we were able to raise over $1,000 in about two weeks," said Mark Everett, the school's building and grounds director.
John Lecroix, a teacher at the school, said he wished he wore a little more to the event, but co-worker Roy Poslusny helped ease his worries.
"It's not going to be that bad; it'll be nice out there."
Plungers were overseen by "Chief Penguin" Mike Haddad, WMUR-TV's chief meteorologist, and Ericson, who led the penguins into the Atlantic. This is the third year Haddad has led the plungers. He informed the crowd that the water temperature was about 43-44 degrees, and that the temperature outside was about 16 degrees with a wind chill in the single digits.
"I can't thank the folks at WMUR-TV and WOKQ radio enough," said Mike Quinn, president of Special Olympics, in a statement. "Their personal support has really given the plunge great momentum. This event has meant so much to Special Olympics."
Quinn said the plunge is a great family day that makes a difference in the lives of people with mental challenges throughout New Hampshire. Funds raised benefit local programs, he said.
Miss Hampton Beach 2006 Allison Blais walked around with a bucket collecting donations. She said if she raised at least $1,000, she would take the plunge. She easily made her goal and led the last wave of plungers into the ocean.
About 12 members of local fire departments and the N.H. Department of Fish and Game donned special cold-water suits and stood in the water to help participants who might have needed assistance.
The last "penguin plunger" to leave the water was Charles Rosa of Seabrook. After his leisurely swim, the crowd gave him a loud round of applause as he exited the water.
"I've been going in every weekend year-round for my entire life. This is nothing," he said.
Rosa represented the nonprofit group Seacoast Youth Services where he has been involved for a little over a year.
"This is a great event. It really makes you feel good to know you're helping kids out," he said.