As members of Ravens Roost 15, Bill and Denise West probably see themselves more as ravens than polar bears, but for the ninth straight year they'll wade into the Chesapeake Bay on a winter day.
The husband-and-wife team, along with 15 others from their roost and thousands of others, will gather again at Sandy Point State Park for the 16th annual Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge to support Special Olympics Maryland.
Along with the Ravens Roost 15 members, thousands of other daring people will cast off logic and take a dip off the shores of the state park near Annapolis Jan. 28.
"We just did it for fun one year, now this is my ninth year," said Bill West, president of the roost that meets monthly at Spirits West on Wilkens Avenue.
"They promised warm water this year," Bill joked. "I don't know that we'll get that. They've been promising that for nine years."
"It's a little of a shock, but it's over quickly," Denise said. "Once you do it, it's something you always want to do."
"It seems a lot of people there have done it before," she added.
In 2010 and 2011, the event attracted 12,000 people, according to Kelley Schniedwind, a spokeswoman for Special Olympics Maryland.
This year, a record-setting group of 13,000 to 14,000 participants is expected to take the plunge, Schniedwind wrote in an email.
Of those, 200 plungers are expected to come from southwestern Baltimore County, Schniedwind wrote.
The plunge is the biggest fundraiser for Special Olympics Maryland. It has raised $19 million over the previous 15 events, according to a release from Special Olympics Maryland.
Last year's event, according to Schniedwind, raised $3 million, just shy of the record $3.5 million set in 2010.
Schniedwind wrote that this year's event is expected to raise another $3 million.
Bill said his roost typically donates between $5,000 and $8,000 each year.
Many of the Ravens Roosts in the council, Bill said, participate in the Polar Bear Plunge.
Some, he noted, participate in the Super Plunge, where they throw themselves into the Bay once an hour for 24 hours.
Bill has raised money, he said, by requesting donations through his radio show Purple Pride Sports Show that airs on Fox 1370 on Saturdays, 9-11 a.m.
As he did for his show from the Cross Street Market on Jan. 21, Bill keeps a donation bucket out during his broadcast, he said.
Denise said she asks family members, friends and co-workers to raise funds for the event.
"Most people say, 'What are you crazy?'" Denise said. "When I first started doing it, I felt the same way."
The first year Ravens Roost 15 participated in the Polar Bear Plunge, Bill recalled, several inches of ice covered the ground.
"We've had our ups and downs with the weather," Bill said. "It's cold, but it's not as bad as you think it is. Getting out is the problem."
Both Bill and Denise recommend first-time plungers have something warm and dry readily available upon leaving the water.
The eight times Bill and Denise have shocked their bodies with a frigid dip have been worth it, they said.
Denise recalled one year when she and Bill went to Towson to watch the awards ceremony for Special Olympics Maryland.
"To (the participants), they are in the Olympics. It's really nice. You know what you do it for," Denise said. "After we saw what it meant to the children, it's something we'll always do."