Polar Bear Plunge draws thousands to frigid bay waters

The Pale Knight arrived ready to plunge.

Inspired by last year's Batman film, "The Dark Knight Rises," Patrick Fink of Baltimore showed up at Saturday's 17th annual Polar Bear Plunge clad in a bat mask, long cape and briefs that exposed much of his pasty skin to the chill air. He even had his chest hair shorn in the shape of the Batman logo.


It was the seventh time the 27-year-old from Baltimore had traveled to Sandy Point State Park for a midwinter dip in the frigid Chesapeake Bay. He said he keeps returning because the yearly event raises money for Special Olympics Maryland, "a charity I love supporting."

Whooping and cheering, an estimated 8,000 people raced into the water at 1 p.m., with the air temperature in the mid-30s and the water not much warmer. Some participants dunked their heads underwater, and a few went in the water multiple times. Many high-fived the state troopers and other police officers in cold-water suits who formed a protective cordon several yards offshore.


Fundraising crossed the $2 million mark during the afternoon, said Special Olympics Maryland spokeswoman Linda Ellingsworth. With donations still coming in, she was confident of reaching this year's $2.8 million goal. Including a smaller plunge at 4 p.m., she said, there were 12,000 participants.

Unlike in prior years, no members of the Baltimore Ravens were on hand as the team prepares for next Sunday's Super Bowl. Even so, exuberant fans made the event feel like a Ravens pep rally, with purple abounding and more than a few imitations of Ray Lewis' signature dance.

Brian Cavey went dressed as Fred Flintstone — plus a shock of faux purple hair. It was his first plunge, and he was joined by pals from Ravens Roost 102 in Pasadena done up as superheroes. The event is appealing, he said, because it combines a zany experience and a worthy cause.

"Writing a check ain't no fun," he said. "We gotta go out there and do what everyone else is going to do — get in that ice-cold water like a bunch of crazy people."

Friends Keaton Naff and Enika Selby, both 19, drove down from Philadelphia for the adventure. After Selby found a place to go dog-sledding in the Poconos, Naff had to find an unusual outing. He picked the plunge, a choice Selby seemed unsure of while wearing a bikini in 35-degree weather.

Some participants have a personal connection to the Special Olympics, which provides sports training and athletic competition for individuals with intellectual disabilities. Amanda Thompson, 22, of Kent Island has a 14-year-old sister with Down syndrome. She and two friends raised $2,200.

Danny Grau, 26, is a Special Olympian from Fallston who plays softball, basketball, floor hockey and soccer. Moments before jumping in the water, he said he was excited. "I'm hard-core," he said.

Grau traveled from Harford County with a group of 10, including 72-year-old Matt Andrews, who made his 12th appearance at the event, hosted by the state police. He does it for two reasons: "for the effort the athletes put forward" and to support the Ravens.


Andrews wore purple-and-white striped socks and painted his face to look like raven wings. After striding into the water, he raised both arms in triumph.

Back on land, he described how it felt: "Cold! Cold as hell, but it felt good, baby. It's stimulating. Oh, my gosh. It's worth it, worth every minute of it."

Down the beach, 43-year-old Jason Stengel of Columbia emerged from the water and pronounced his maiden plunge "awesome."

"It's very exhilarating and makes me very proud that I was able to go all the way out, go all the way under," he said, pointing to the sodden ears of his polar bear hat. "I would definitely do it again. I think everyone should do it at least once."