Supporters of the Special Olympics New York braved the cold temperatures and took the plunge into the frigid water of the Atlantic Ocean in Rockaway Beach on March 11 to raise funds and awareness for Special Olympics athletes in the New York City region.
The rain subsided just in time for the Rockaway Queens Polar Plunge, one of 15 annual statewide Special Olympics polar plunges. The cold weather didn’t damper the spirit of the Special Olympics athletes and their supporters, nor did the “balmy” water temperature of 42 degrees.
Kaitlin Rosner, senior director of development of the Special Olympics New York, shared that the plunge raised over 15,000 for equipment, facilities, year-round sports training and competition and fees for the athletes’ travel and medals.
“Our athletes are authentic athletes,” Rosner emphasized. “They earned their medals. They earned every award they received at Special Olympics New York.”
Over 200 brave souls had registered for the event online, but not all showed up, most likely due to the rain. Under the watchful eye of the Rockaway Point Fire Department and lifeguards, the 100 or so swimmers, clad in bathing suits, hit the surf shortly after 11 a.m. at Beach 94th Street.
Friends Mark Flynn from College Point, the mother and daughter team Denise and Amanda Zayas, Julianne Sullivan from Douglaston, and Sonrrisa Torres were excited to strip down for the breathtaking event.
Except for Flynn, who described himself as the “entourage” who made sure his friends came out alive.
“They are going to put their own bodies at risk and sacrifice a few moments of their lives just to go into the cold water for my amusement,” Flynn said.
Sullivan, pointing to her friend Zayas, who was about to take the plunge into the freezing water for the eighth time, jokingly said that Zayas was “insane.”
“She made me do this,” Sullivan joked. “I’m not doing this of my own volition. I’m a prisoner. Here’s my message, ‘somebody come and get me.'”
Mike Beiner, who has been a coach of the Special Olympics for 13 years, shared that 20 Special Olympic athletes had signed up for the event and said they loved the event because it was a way to help out.
“The Special Olympics does so much for them,” Beiner said. “Providing the training, providing competitions, and so this is a way for them to help raise money to support the organization.”
Kathy, one of the Special Olympics athletes, a long distance swimmer and who also plays floor hockey, bocee and basketball, was ready for the adventure.
“I don’t go all the way in,” Kathy said. “No, no — not like the crazy people here that jump all the way in.”
Tom Quinn, sporting a Polar bear bathrobe, was part of the team “Courts for Mary,” named after his youngest daughter, who had a disability and died seven years ago.
Quinn is a pro at polar plunges, braving the freezing waters for the past 20 years.
“Today is not too bad,” Quinn said. “I’ve done colder ones. I did one one year in Long Beach. It was 10 degrees. That was cold. So this isn’t bad. I dive in. I make sure my head gets wet. And that’s it. That’s the only criteria I have. I don’t stay long. That water is cold.”