Fairfield County Residents Take the “Penguin Plunge”

Some younger participants jump into the frigid waters at the “Penguin Plunge.”

On Sat. March 9, hundreds of Fairfield County residents were “freezin’ for a reason” in the tenth annual Penguin Plunge. The event generates funds for the Special Olympics and helps the organization fund various projects and events for over one thousands Special Olympics athletes.

If a Local Training Program has participants in the Plunge, a piece of the number the group has earned is given back to them for various projects throughout the year. According to Gail Feinstein, the event coordinator and a volunteer with the Special Olympics for over a decade, the Penguin Plunge at Compo Beach is the largest in the state out of the ten different locations.

“The event has grown over the years…” Feinstein said. “It’s very fulfilling to see so many new faces at our orientation and knowing that we are all there for a great cause.”

It was a brisk 48 degrees outside when participants ran, dove, and sometimes belly flopped their way into the Long Island sound to help raise money for the Special Olympics. Penguin groups came from all over Fairfield County, including Shelton High School, St. Joe’s High School, Trumbull, CT, and members of the Westport Fire Department. Students on the Bedford Middle School Student Council were among the Westport participants, and attested to the chilliness of the water.

“It was like being in the arctic,” Molly Fording a student at Bedford, said.

Fording’s fellow council members agreed, saying that as soon as they hit the water, it was an immediate shock to the system. With the chilly water conditions, safety precautions were present as participants, all sporting either a green or white bowtie, ran into the Long Island Sound. Two officers in dry suits were stationed at the water’s edge while as two more that waded in about neck high to create a stopping point for the Penguin Plungers.

According to Feinstein, this year’s Plunge was a huge success, raising around $120,000 dollars. Last year’s Plunge raised around the same amount, and the spectator base as well as number of participants grew. Even on year’s when the weather has been less than optimal, people have shown up to take the Plunge. In fact, Feinstein recalls that as being one of the best experiences while working on the Penguin Plunge.

“One year, the weather was totally overcast and looking very iffy,” Feinstein said. “We figured it would be a bust and it turned out to be our best ever. We raised $125,000!”

Several Staples students were working as volunteers at the event. Volunteer jobs included taking registration fees, keeping track of paperwork, as well as setting up and breaking down tents and tables. Students felt even the small jobs they did were important to the overall cause and message of the Plunge.

The date for next year’s Penguin Plunge has yet to be set, but it will without a doubt be as successful as it has in years past. In fact, participants are already gearing up to take the dive in 2014.

“I will definitely do it again,” Olivia Payne, a student at Bedford, said. “I want to keep doing the Penguin Plunge all the way until my senior year of high school.”

The regional games for the Special Olympics will take place on May 11, at Weston High School. Feinstein and other volunteers from the Special Olympics will be handing out ribbons and medals to athletes participating in the Track and Field events.