By Jill Diver
DERRY — While some people will be adjusting their TVs on Super Bowl Sunday to make sure they can see the sweat on the brow of their favorite football player, others will be spending Feb. 1, running into the freezing cold water at Hampton Beach for the 10th anniversary of the Penguin Plunge to benefit New Hampshire Special Olympics.
This is the first year that the single-day Penguin Plunge has turned into Penguin Plunge Weekend. Festivities start on Friday night, Jan. 30, at the Ashworth Hotel for the Penguin Bash, where plungers and supporters of Special Olympics are welcome to join in the fun. Saturday, Jan. 31, brings the first High School Plunge, at noon on the beach, and then the main attraction on Sunday.
In order to participate, plungers must be at least 16 years old, and each individual must raise $350. This year’s costume theme is Mardi Gras. At the end of the day, plungers will have raised money for a wonderful cause and they may win a prize for best costume or for having been the person to raise the most money.
This is the fourth year Jessica Perry of the Derry Parks and Recreation Department will do the plunge.
“Every year for four years I’ve gone in,” Perry said. “I usually go in to my waist and then duck down so my shoulders get wet. And I run back out.”
Some plungers dunk their bodies into the freezing cold water for a personal reason.
“My cousin had Down syndrome, so that was my first experience with it all. It’s definitely something that is dear to my heart,” said Perry.
“Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom is open for the plungers and each plunger gets one guest,” said Perry. “There are waves to run into the ocean, that way everyone’s not tackling each other trying to get in.”
“In your wave, you run into the ocean and run out,” she said. “They have warming tents that you change in. After everyone is done, there is lunch inside the ballroom and they announce all costume winners and give prizes to the individual whose raises the most money. People are crazy sometimes. Some people can raise $15,000 by themselves.”
Dave Morency is another local plunger. He is the coach of the Derry Timberwolves Special Olympics team and is plunging for his squad and for his daughter, Kerry Morency.
“This is my fifth year involved with the Special Olympics and Penguin Plunge,” said Morency. “I initiated the plunge and got local people involved. You get to meet lots of different people, and it’s a great cause, with great camaraderie.”
Special Olympian Kerry Morency thinks the Penguin Plunge is great and it also helps the Timberwolves remember someone very special in their lives — Carol Madden, a Special Olympics supporter and coach who died in 2006.
For Morency, taking on a challenge like the Penguin Plunge keeps Madden alive in her heart. She added a day doesn’t go by that she doesn’t think of her as a coach and mostly as a friend.
“We plunge to keep going just for her,” Morency said. “It’s all for a worthy cause.”
Even if you’re not plunging, watching can be a cool sight. One family who always attends brings a goat with them. They dress it up and it just sits there.
Penguin Plunge Weekend is from Friday, Jan. 30, to Sunday, Feb. 1. Plungers may register the day of the event and pay the $350. For more information visit www.sonh.org and click on the Penguin Plunge icon.
This story ran in The Derry News on January 22, 2009.