Catonsville family prepares for annual Polar Bear Plunge

Amber Alderson doesn't like being cold. But on Saturday, Jan. 28, she will brave the winter weather, run into the Chesapeake Bay and dive underwater as part of the annual Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge.

This will be the 20-year-old Catonsville resident's third time taking part in the event, which has run for 16 years and raises money for Special Olympics Maryland.

"The anticipation is really fun," she said. "You're standing there, half-naked in a bathing suit, waiting and freezing, and then you're jumping in frigid water."

This year, for the first time, Alderson organized a team to participate in the event.

Among the 21 members she recruited are her father, Doug, and 17-year-old brother, Doug Jr., both first-time plungers.

Doug said he was attracted to the event for the "craziness factor" of it, but had an ulterior motive.

"It's about me wanting to spend time with (my children) because I believe in things they believe in," Doug said. "There's a little bit of compassion there. It hits home."

Amber's team will be part of what could be a record-setting year for the Polar Bear Plunge.

In 2010 and 2011 the event at Sandy Point State Park in Annapolis attracted 12,000 people, according to Kelley Schniedwind, a spokeswoman for Special Olympics Maryland.

This year, 13,000 to 14,000 participants are expected to take the plunge, Schniedwind wrote in an email.

Of those participants, 200 plungers are expected to come from southwestern Baltimore County, Schniedwind wrote.

The plunge marks the biggest fundraiser for Special Olympics Maryland. Last year's event, according to Schniedwind, raised $3 million, just shy of the record $3.5 million set in 2010.

It has raised $19 million over the previous 15 events, according to a release from Special Olympics Maryland.

Schniedwind wrote that this year's event is expected to raise another $3 million.

Supporting the cause has significance for Amber and other members of her family. Two cousins have Down syndrome and participate in cheerleading for the Special Olympics, she said.

In about a month, Amber's team raised more than $1,000 in pledges for their plunges, she said on Jan. 18.

Most of the money raised, Amber said, has come from online donations with some in the form of cash donations.

"It's about what I expected I guess, but we're still trying to raise more money," she said, noting she can keep collecting until the day of the event. "I like doing charity event work."

To aid the cause, Doug has used his connections at work to raise money.

Creative Concepts Group, Inc., where Doug performs maintenance and repairs vehicles and equipment, sponsored Amber's team and will provide a donation and clothing for the participants, Doug said.

Doug also solicited donations from his co-workers.

If someone asks him to repair something, Doug jokingly tells them, "You got to sponsor me, or I'm not touching it."

"I'll shake them all down for $20 or $25," he said.

Amber has some advice for first-timers like her father and brother .

"You have to run right in. If you take it slow, you'll never do it," she said.

But, she notes, there is only so much preparation one can do.

"You can't really get away from (being cold)," she said. "So you just got to deal with it."

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad