Sun-bathers and leisurely swimmers were noticeably absent from Hampton Beach State Park last Sunday but a rare breed of 'penguins' did flock to the oceanfront for the 13th annual Penguin Plunge! And no, these were not the adorable creatures with little beaks and wings from Antarctica but dedicated humans who dared to jump in the icy water for the great cause of the Special Olympics.
A crowd was already standing-by, awaiting these brave penguins to take the Atlantic as I rushed down the beach shortly after noon-time to catch the action. I snapped a picture of them charging into the water just before they sprinted back to the shore. Even this short amount of time is a BIG commitment in those frigid waters!
Trained divers in wet suits (who stood in the ocean) and fire fighters were on sight to make sure all the penguins stayed safe.
Even though beach shops and food outlets were boarded up, a vibrant energy filled the air along with scattered snowflakes. After the penguins jumped in, it was off to the warming tent for those cold critters. In the mean time, a mini festival was in full swing on the strip for spectators of this occasion to grab a bite to eat or simply just observe the excitement.
Just watching those penguins jump into the Atlantic sent shivers up my spine so a slice of brick-oven pizza and hot cup of coffee really hit the spot.
Where do these penguins go after the plunge? Not Antarctica but instead the Hampton Casino Ballroom for food, family, fun, and awards. I got a sneak peek into this scene and the cause (Special Olympics) they are so passionate about.
The theme for this year's plunge was “Going to the Chapel,” so there was no shortage of entertaining and interesting costumes to be seen. After some good music and food in the ballroom, awards are passed out ranging from most money raised by donation to best costume (1st, 2nd and 3rd place).
Leaving the ballroom, I realized why this event is so important to the spectators, penguins, or donors of the Special Olympics Penguin Plunge. Short, informative videos on their webpage (and shown at the event) are filled with incredible stories: http://www.specialolympics.org/videos.aspx.
Walking back past the empty beach made me appreciate how as New Englanders we have to be innovative with the activities we engage in because the seasons are constantly changing. The Penguin Plunge surely does show our uniqueness to not let the cold keep us inside. Whether spectator, penguin, or donor—make sure to get out to the plunge next year!