The only feeling comparable to the biting cold as a result of jumping into a body of water in the middle of the winter is the intensity of joy and sense of community that warms the body back up right after the plunge. Penguin Plunges run from January to March throughout the state to raise money for Special Olympics Connecticut. Each year plunge participant numbers rise, as do silly costumes and excited audience members. I chose to plunge with a team, to have a hand to hold while we braved the freezing water in mid-February. I cried and laughed at the same time as I pushed myself to meet the full challenge requirement—to plunge in all the way up to my head. I did, and even months post-plunge, my mother is still No. 1 on my list for being the first to greet me with a towel, blanket and sweatshirt as I came out of the water.
One of the most insane parts of it all is that most plungers are yearly regulars. And, yes, I plan to do it again. However crazy the concept may seem, it is most definitely freezin’ for a reason: My team raised over $3,000. Knowing that these donations directly benefit Connecticut’s 14,000 Special Olympics athletes made my group and me feel a great sense of pride and accomplishment. It is a memory and a feeling that I surely will not soon forget. While the water temperature is definitely cold, the spirit of the volunteers is all warmth.
My volunteering with children and teenagers with special needs began at my local YMCA’s Friends and Buddies program. The friends I made through this experience led me to search for more opportunities. Day trips to volunteer at Special Olympics events turned into an internship, and each opportunity left me looking for more ways to help and meet new people. I am one of the first members of the organization’s newly established Communications and Marketing Volunteer Committee. We share inspiring stories of the athletes, coaches and volunteers. I am on a constant quest for an inspiring story. Many of the strongest and kindest people I have met were Special Olympics volunteers and athletes. It gives me great pleasure to see their stories being told. Being responsible for the telling of another person’s story makes me hold myself to a high standard. It is my greatest challenge to communicate the personality and the stories of the incredible athletes, coaches, volunteers, and unified partners who I am privileged enough to interview.
The atmosphere of a Special Olympics event is unlike any other environment. I have witnessed kindness and teamwork in its purest form through Special Olympics participation. Special Olympics has found its way into my life and heart permanently. I cannot imagine not being involved. I was fortunate to be a spectator at the Special Olympics USA Games this past June in New Jersey, and I cannot wait for the World Games in Los Angeles this coming summer, where there will be more stories to be told.
Natalie recently interviewed a Penguin Plunge participant who will take his fortieth plunge on March 14, 11 a.m., Compo Beach at Westport. soct.org