Every year about this time, Montgomery County firefighter Donny Boyd looks forward to heading to Sandy Point State Park in Annapolis and dipping — no, make that plunging — into the frigid Chesapeake Bay.
"It's invigorating," Boyd said Friday at the start of the 19th annual Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge, a fundraiser for Special Olympics Maryland.
Most folks pay $75 for a one-time, bone-chilling immersion. But Boyd leads a group called Super Plungers who go into the water 24 times in 24 hours. Formed in 2004, the group has at least 30 members who have each raised $10,000.
Super Plungers start on the day before the regular event for one-time plungers, which kicks off Saturday morning.
"If I can do it 24 times, you can certainly do it once," said Boyd, who was on his eighth Super Plunge. He said he became involved at the request of a family friend who is a Special Olympian.
"It's a life-changing event," Boyd said. "I've raised $29,000 this year by myself. I know it goes to a great cause, and I've seen firsthand how it has affected athletes' lives."
Friday's festivities began with the first plunge shortly after 10 a.m. Plungers cheered on the way to the water and shivered coming out. Afterward, they dived into one of three hot tubs positioned along the shoreline.
Among those who took part in this year's Super Plunge was recently elected Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman, who also participated last year as a state senator.
"Even though we're fairly busy, after the election was over, I made a commitment to do this again," Kittleman said shortly after the 1 p.m. plunge. "Transition's over, and we've got a lot going on, but this is important, too."
During the 1 p.m. plunge, those who took part remained in the water longer than normal and gathered for a photo taken by a drone camera that hovered overhead. By then, the afternoon winds had picked up, signaling the approach of inclement weather.
"As soon as you start to get wind, it makes it worse," said Boyd. "But you have to brave it. I've been a firefighter and a bomb technician for 26 years. A little cold goes a long way."
Mary Kokosko, a special-education teacher at South River High School, took part in her third Super Plunge on Friday. Next Friday, she plans to return to Sandy Point State Park to participate in the Cool School Plunge, a similar event that also raises funds for Special Olympics Maryland.
She said about 300 South River High School students will take part in the Cool School Plunge, which is held for elementary, middle and high schools from across the state.
"I enjoy working with all students, but especially students with disabilities; they just always stay so positive," said Kokosko. "I grew up playing sports, so I absolutely love giving anybody the opportunity to be part of the team, achieve personal success and really enjoy doing so."