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Plungefest 2011

On January 29, 2011, Special Olympics Maryland, the Maryland State Police, and a number of other organizations once again held a polar bear plunge at Sandy Point State Park near Annapolis, where people ran into the Chesapeake Bay to raise money for Special Olympics.  This year, the event was called “Plungefest”, and celebrated the 15th anniversary of the event.

Unlike the 2010 event, where the final plunge of the day was cancelled due to a snowstorm in progress during the event, dropping several inches of snow across the state, in 2011, the weather cooperated.  While a significant snowstorm, complete with “thundersnow“, did hit the state earlier in the week, causing treacherous road conditions and widespread power outages, by the time the weekend rolled around, the snowstorm had passed, the roads had been cleared, and most of the power outages had been eliminated, and the polar bear plunge event was run to its conclusion.  However, the snowstorm did leave the beach covered with a layer of snow, reinforcing the point that this was indeed a winter event, and the water was cold.  The nicer weather also meant that, unlike last year when the ongoing snowstorm forced me to stow my main camera, the Canon, and switch to “Duckie”, my waterproof camera, I was able to photograph with the Canon, with better picture quality as a result.

The day consisted of three main events: the first plunge at 1:00 PM, a VIP plunge at 2:00 PM featuring Joe Flacco from the Baltimore Ravens, and then the second plunge at 3:00 PM.  The biggest change to the event in 2011 was that the polar bear plunge was now an alcohol-free event.  Previously, the event had contained a “beer tent“, where people could purchase and consume adult beverages.  This was eliminated in 2011 for safety reasons, as event organizers determined that cold-water swimming mixed with alcohol was a dangerous combination.

For more information about Plungefest, visit

The beach is covered in snow until a few feet from the water. Waves from the Chesapeake Bay arrive on the beach.
Spectators walk around the beach prior to the beginning of any events.
In the sponsor tent, Plungefest sweatshirts lay on a table waiting to be sold. A picnic table is covered in snow, with a pool of water nearby.
Sign advising participants that the event is now an alcohol-free event - a change from previous years.
Two men float in small boats out in the bay. Maryland Natural Resources Police boat a few hundred yards offshore.
Maryland Transportation Authority Police boat a few hundred yards offshore.

As in 2010, the people were festively dressed.  There was a man in a zentai suit, several people festively dressed and handing out twistable balloons, a JMU family, and so much more.  Some of these folks had every intention of jumping in and taking the plunge, while others were ready to cheer the plungers on from the shore.

A man in a green zentai suit and various accessories makes the rounds through the sponsor tent. A man dressed in a clown costume makes balloon animals.
A woman holds up a "balloon animal" for the camera.
Two women dressed festively, the woman on the right complete with wings. Three people dress up in gold outfits and Afro wigs.
A man holds up his shirt to reveal a bikini top underneath.
A woman dresses as Princess Leia, and a man dresses as Darth Vader, both characters from Star Wars. A group of three JMU students (at right), a JMU parent (second from left), and a community college student with aspirations of attending JMU in the future (far left).
A group poses for the camera, some in costume, and some not. I rode the bus in from the Naval Academy stadium with this group.

The first plunge was certainly a lively event.  Hundreds of people ran into the Bay and took a quick mid-winter swim.  There were people in drysuits standing a short distance out in the water both to form a boundary for the plungers, as well as to provide support should anything go wrong.  Due to the large numbers of people in the first plunge, the designated “Plunge Zone” was closed off to anyone who was not plunging or directly providing support to a plunger, and thus all spectators were relegated to the sides of the event.

One thing that I enjoyed photographing in the first plunge was facial expressions.  The larger numbers in the first plunge made it difficult to follow individuals’ plunges from start to finish, but the expressions on the faces of people in the water were priceless, as some were just smiling and laughing like they jumped into freezing water every day, while some people’s expressions showed shock, surprise, and perhaps pain from standing in the freezing water, as well as people’s expressions changing to that look that says, “Hey, I really did it!”

Support personnel in drysuits are in the water in preparation for participants' taking the plunge. A man shows off his muscles for the camera while dressed in stereotypical Native American markings.
A group smiles for the camera just ahead of the first plunge. Based on the facial expression, the man at second from right is very cold.
The first plunge is underway, as people run into the ice-cold waters of the Chesapeake Bay. The first plunge is underway, as people run into the ice-cold waters of the Chesapeake Bay.
The first plunge is underway, as people run into the ice-cold waters of the Chesapeake Bay.
A man wearing a speedo and a winter hat takes a photo from the water. A group of men dances around in the water.
A woman reacts to the cold water after taking the plunge.
A woman in a red dress is all smiles as she stands in the water. Two women run into the water together.
A woman in a tie-dye shirt is on her hands and knees in the water.
Two men in yellow drysuits stand in the water waiting to come to anyone's assistance if necessary.
Two men stand in the water holding a banner for the Chloe's Cause Foundation, an organization to to raise awareness and help families with children with Leukemia and Down Syndrome.
A group wearing bright yellow "Pap Pap's Perty Penguins" shirts smiles for the camera. I believe that the gentleman in the front is apparently having a difficult time concealing how cold he really is. Three women pose for the camera. The woman at left appears to be particularly cold, as evidenced by her facial expression.
A woman enters the water wearing a viking-style hat.
A group of three is all smiles as they pose in the water. A woman stands on the beach in a heavy coat, hat, and gloves after taking the plunge.
Moments after the first photo was taken, the woman in the center shows exactly how cold she is via the change in her facial expression.
A man and a woman hug after each successfully took the plunge. A woman reacts to the cold water.
A woman strikes a victorious pose after successfully taking the plunge.
Crowds on the beach following the end of the first plunge. Crowds on the beach following the end of the first plunge.
Crowds on the beach following the end of the first plunge.

After the conclusion of the first plunge, there was an intermission of about and hour and a half before the second plunge, during which time the VIP plunge occurred (of which I got no usable photos).  The second plunge consisted of a number of latecomers, people who wanted to plunge a second time, and people who simply held off plunging during the first go-round.  The mood felt far more intimate than the first plunge, likely due to the smaller numbers for the second plunge.  Because of the first plunge’s higher numbers, spectators were relegated to the sidelines.  But due to smaller numbers, spectators were allowed into the plunge zone, thus we got to watch as the plungers plunged all around us.  I was able to follow a few people’s plunges from start to finish, plus being able to shoot straight on certainly has its benefits.

A man wearing Superman-style "Man of Steel" underwear poses for the camera. A woman is all smiles, ready to take the plunge while wearing a penguin costume.
A group of people prepares for the second plunge. The gentleman in the green suit seems particularly cold while waiting to take the plunge.
A woman is interviewed for the camera prior to the second plunge. A group of women pose for a photo prior to the second plunge.
People wait on the beach ahead of the beginning of the second plunge.
The support personnel in drysuits are back in the water, ready to go for the second plunge. A group of women runs into the water during the second plunge.
One of a number of women during the second plunge who, when plunging, went out to the people in drysuits and gave them high fives.
A man reacts to being in the ice cold water.
A woman enters the water. A woman, when leaving the water after taking the plunge, gives a facial expression that says, "<I>What did I just do?</I>"
A woman emerges from the water after submerging.
A woman submerges, holding her wig above the water.
The woman holding her wig emerges from the water.
Two young women enter the water as they take the plunge. Two young women pose for the camera after going waist-deep into the water.
A woman comes out of the water after submerging.
Two young women look at photos taken of them after emerging from the water. Two young women are all smiles as they emerge from the water.
The beach following the conclusion of the second plunge.

All throughout the day, the one thing that surprised me more than anything else was the amount of abandoned footwear on the beach.  It seemed that more than a few people, in the process of plunging, either took off their shoes – mostly flip-flops – before going in and then never retrieved them after coming back out, or they lost their shoes in the water and they later washed up on short or were tossed back out.  One would think that people would be more careful about keeping their footwear on, but I suppose not…

An abandoned right flip-flop on the beach. A bunch of abandoned flip-flops in a pile on the beach.
Three abandoned flip-flops on the beach.
A "Crocs" shoe sits abandoned on the beach. A green flip-flop floats in the water during the first plunge.
A swim fin, most likely belonging to the woman shown being interviewed earlier, floats in the water during the second plunge.

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