By Nancy Rineman
Atlantic News, Thursday, February 13, 2003[The following article is courtesy of the Atlantic News]
[Atlantic News Photo by Nancy Rineman]
HAMPTON — All roads led to Hampton Beach on Sunday, as participants and spectators from near and far rushed to the shore to take part in the 4th annual Penguin Plunge. Two "waves" totaling 556 plungers clad in everything from this year’s Mardi Gras theme to perhaps the more appropriate polar bear guise charged from the warming tents to the frigid temperatures of the Atlantic.
Adrenaline rushes persevered, turning the roar of enthusiasm into genuine shuts of exultation, as the supporters of New Hampshire Special Olympics once again achieved their goal.
Sarah Ward, Coordinator of Special Events and Public Relations for Special Olympics, said the $250,658 raised on Sunday will probably rise to $253,000 once all the pledges are in.
The event surpassed last year’s now famous fund participants, with 140 extra bodies fighting for running room, resulting in a $43,000 increase over last year’s tally.
Captain Jamie Sullivan of the Hampton police department, event director for this year’s Penguin Plunge, estimated that close to 5000 people flocked to the beach on Sunday. The clear but cold day featured better weather than in the past two years, resulting in an influx of supporters and curiosity seekers.
Traffic clogged streets coupled with massive snow banks were the norm Sunday, as drivers competed for the even more limited parking spaces.
An added attraction to this year’s Penguin Plunge was New Hampshire’s First Lady, Denise Benson, wife of Governor Craig Benson. She and WMUR Sports Director Charlie Sherman braved the cold water together twice Sunday, along with Special Olympics Athlete Gary Mayo of Somersworth, New Hampshire.
"I’m the First Volunteer for the State and I’m doing what ever it takes," Benson said, immediately following her second plunge. Benson said she does like the ocean — in the summer.
"My husband thinks I’m crazy," Mrs. Benson admitted. The governor was at an Easter Seals event being held on the slopes that day.
Mrs. Benson said her volunteer agenda would be taking her to Senior Citizens’ luncheons, and to work at a number of soup kitchens in the upcoming week, all part of "trying to feed our neighbors in February," she added.
For more information on the Penguin Plunge and other upcoming Special Olympics New Hampshire events, call (800)639-2608, Ext. 25, or visit the New Hampshire Special Olympics Web site at www.sonh.org.