Hours before taking an icy dip into the Atlantic Ocean, hundreds of plungers tailgated in the parking lot of the Wildwoods Convention Center Saturday morning preparing for the sting and inevitable numbness that goes along with jumping into the 45-degree water.
That chill would soon be warmed by the thought of all the money raised for Special Olympics New Jersey during the Wildwood Polar Bear Plunge, now in its 13th year.
But first, each brave soul prepared for the plunge in their own way.
The smell of barbecue filled the seasonably cold salt air — temperatures were in the low 30s — as plungers either warmed themselves by small fires or by their drink of choice.
Members of the This One’s for Groody team huddled together as t-shirts were handed out with a picture of Chris Groody gracing the front. A longtime plunger, Groody died of lung cancer last year. “Every year, he looked forward to this, loved the group, loved the cause,” said Joe Friel, public information office for the Evesham Township Police Department. More than fifteen plungers raised approximately $6,000 in his honor.
“What we’re doing here today will allow athletes to participate in over 200 games throughout the entire state of New Jersey for free,” said John Lynch, director of sales and entertainment for the Wildwoods Convention Center, as he greeted teams while walking the parking lot.
About half an hour before start time, plungers began their long and unnerving trek to the beach, each step bringing them closer to the inevitable shock of the cold water.
With a hot tub waiting for him at the Starlux Hotel, seven-year veteran plunger John Ziomek of Haddon Heights, said that it was refreshing going in, but coming out not so much, as the air temperature was cooler than the ocean temperature.
So far, approximately 1,000 plungers have raised more than $320,000, bringing the 13-year total to more than $3.2 million.
Piggy Park Plungers, from Mantua, were the top on the team plunge leaderboard raising $36,495. Rounding out the top three teams were AlohaAvengers raising $34,041 and American Legion Post 184 Seal Team raising $22,194.
William Conway was the the top individual leader, raising more than $6,200.