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 a sunny Saturday with temperatures in the 50s were Catonsville residents Katie Hutcheson and Emma Bogner.
The two were part of the Seton Keough High School team that has made taking part in the annual fundraiser for Special Olympics Maryland a tradition.
This year, plunge representatives are expecting up to 13,000 participants, and the Gators will again be part of the fourth annual Cool School Challenge on Jan. 25.
"One of the reasons why we started it was because Peggy Stevick, who's a senior on the team, she and her sisters have swam, but her brother has Down syndrome," said Lauren Urban, a Seton Keough assistant coach. "So they wanted to start something to help support Special Olympics, it was an event close to their hearts."
Hutcheson and Emma, both juniors at the all-girls Catholic high school on Caton Avenue, have participated in the plunge before. This year will be Hutcheson's third appearance and the second for Bogner and are looking forward to returning again this year.
"My mom is a speech language pathologist at a school in Catonsville, and she works with special needs children, so I've always been kind of close to that cause," Hutcheson said. "I guess it means a lot to know that I can help them try to live as normally as they possibly can."
Hutcheson said this year, the team has a goal of each member raising at least $50 for the cause and have made a pact to run as far out as possible together.
"When it's plunge time, I guess the security guys are in the water to make sure no one goes out too deep, and as a team a couple of us will make a goal to go out, high five them and come back," Hutcheson said.
"I just ran in and ran out (last year). I was so cold," Bogner said. "But I'm going to go out farther this year."
This year's event holds slightly more significance with the girls as one of their teammates, freshman Caroline Bodley, has Down syndrome and has participated in the Special Olympics herself.
"I have to say that, we've gone (to the plunge) at least for the past two years when I've been the assistant coach. But this year, definitely, means a little bit more, just seeing the challenges that Caroline faces daily, both in school and in the pool," Urban said. "It's kind of nice to see the wonderful things that Special Olympics has really done for her."
Mary Bodley said she is thrilled her daughter is able to combine both aspects of her swimming career, with her high school swim team and Special Olympics.
"It's really exciting. It kind of helps her," Bodley said. "She's part of everything and it branches different worlds and brings them all together.
"She's never actually done the Polar Bear Plunge before, so it'll be good for her to do it," she added.
Caroline Bodley said she loves being on the swim team and the camaraderie she's experienced.
"I like being on the swim team, because I have all my friends and I like to swim," she said.
She is "a little nervous" about the actual plunge but is excited to try it out.
"I think that'll be fun." she said.
Hutcheson and Bogner are both thrilled to have Caroline on the team and are glad to have an opportunity to raise money for a cause that will directly benefit her.
"Well, it's nice, and I love Caroline," Bogner said. "She's so sweet, and it feels good raising money for that cause."
"And just the cause itself is great, because you get to see these kids who are just the happiest they could be, doing what they love, competing in their sports and really just having a great time," Hutcheson said of Special Olympics. "And so being a part of making that happen really means a lot."
"I'm definitely excited," Hutcheson said.