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Residents of First Colony started 2016 on a charitable – if chilly –note by taking part in the neighborhood’s annual “Polar Plunge” to benefit the James City County Special Olympics.
The eighth annual Polar Plunge, which took place on Jan. 1, had more than 40 participants of all ages jumping into the James River. Each participant paid an entrance fee of $15, though many chose to give more, Event Organizer Richard Schauffler said.
The event raised more than $1,100, which will go to Virginia Special Olympics Area 22. This chapter of the state organization covers James City County, York County, the City of Williamsburg and the City of Poquoson, and currently offers year-round swimming and bowling leagues for children with disabilities.
“Most folks are unaware of the fact that the state and national Special Olympics organizations do not fund any of the local activities,” said Cynthia Favret, a member of the local chapter. “That’s why we are particularly grateful to groups like First Colony for their fundraising efforts.”
The Polar Plunge was started in 2008 by then-Jamestown High School student Maddy Otey as part of a class service project. Though Maddy graduated and moved on, the Oteys and several other families in the neighborhood became involved with keeping the fundraiser going beyond the first year.
Several neighborhood business owners and managers agreed to sponsor the costs associated with the Plunge so each participant’s entire entrance fee could go to the JCC Special Olympics. Diverse businesses including Ace Hardware, Johnny Timbers, Hathaway Electric, East Coast Bricking, Drs. Morrison and Murphy DDS, Berret’s Seafood Restaurant and Berkshire Hathaway Towne Realty were among the sponsors this year.
Colonial Sports employees also pitched in to design and produce the T-shirts each participant received.
While this year’s event was similar in many ways to past iterations, there was one major difference – the temperature was notably warmer on the day of the Plunge than participants have ever seen in the event’s eight-year history.
“The air temperature was 53 degrees and the water was actually 58 degrees,” Schauffler said. “It was the most tropical weather we’ve ever had. Some of the kids actually went back in [the water] a second time and swam around.”
Schauffler also observed a shift in the demographics of people participating in the Plunge, with more kids and teens turning out than usual – a fact he said is reflective of the influx of young families moving into the neighborhood in recent years.
“It’s really become a family event,” Schauffler said. “Everybody had a great time.”