Last year's MSP Polar Bear Plunge off Sandy Point State Park in Annapolis attracted an estimated 11,000 participants. Among those going into the water on that sunny Saturday with temperatures in the 50s were Lansdowne resident Ken Bouchat and his son, James, now 10.
This year, plunge representatives are expecting up to 13,000 participants, and, thanks to Ken and James' convincing, those numbers will include Ken's wife, Melissa, and their youngest son, 6-year-old Nicholas.
This weekend's event will also include the fourth annual Cool School Challenge and the first Corporate Plunge on Jan. 25 and the 17th annual Polar Bear Plunge on Jan. 26.
The annual fundraiser for Special Olympics Maryland is sponsored by Maryland State Police and gives participants an opportunity to take a chilly dip, swim or quick dunk in the Chesapeake Bay.
Melissa Bouchat said the youngest child of their family friends, Tim and Patti Clyde, has Down syndrome and knowing 2-year-old Emily Marie motivated her to participate.
"Emily, she just always has a smile on her face. She is the cutest little thing. She is the happiest child you've ever seen. And it just makes me feel so much better to know that we're doing it for her," Bouchat said.
"Tim and Patti have been good friends of ours forever," she said. "When he (Ken) and I met 13 years ago, our first date was with Tim and Patti. They were my first friends."
With her two boys similar ages to Tim and Patti's first two children, Bouchat can still recall the shock she felt upon learning that Emily had the genetic condition.
"At first, I was so devastated, but I thought she couldn't have gone to better parents. They're the perfect people to have to deal with something like that," she said. "I don't know how I would've dealt with that, but they are absolutely perfect for her.
James said Emily was his motivation for doing his first plunge last year. When he was deciding whether or not to participate, he said he told himself, "I think it would be a whole lot of fun to help out Emily and all the other kids who have disabilities. So I said, 'OK, let's do that.' because that would be a really fun."
Ken Bouchat said he did his first two plunges through Kenwood High School in Essex, where he teaches. He said the second year, he even wore a shirt with Emily's picture on it. Last year, however, Baltimore County Public Schools changed its policy and teachers are no longer allowed to sponsor teams.
Coincidentally, Tim and Patti Clyde decided to start a team for Emily. Ken and James were able to join Team EMC (Emily Marie Clyde) and officially plunge in her name.
"That's kind of what convinced me," Melissa Bouchat said of joining Team EMC. "Last year, I was scared of the coldness."
The approximately 80-person team will take a bus down to Sandy Point State Park on Saturday to join in the festivities there.
Ken Bouchat and James said they are both excited to be back in the electric, plunge-day community on the beach.
"(You see) all kinds of crazy stuff. You see a bunch of different teams, they have crazy outfits," Ken Bouchat said.
"I also saw some people with Viking hats on," James added.
Nicholas said he is most excited by the prospect of actually plunging into the chilly water. He said he's going to, "just run as fast as I can and jump in the water."
His mother said she is "strangely, looking forward to it, can't imagine why.
"I'm sort of nervous about the cold," she said. "But that only lasts for a second. I can deal with that."
Team EMC has a goal to raise $25,000 before Saturday. As of Jan. 18, the group had raised more than $14,000, with $300 in pledges for the Bouchat family.
"Every little tiny bit" helps, Ken Bouchat said.