On Jan. 25, if recent history is any guide, thousands of people will run into the waters of the Chesapeake Bay where it meets the sand of Sandy Point State Park, trying their best to enjoy water temperatures in the low 40s.
It’s all part of the annual Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge, which raises funds for Maryland Special Olympics.
“Plungers” are in for a cold shock, but Hampstead’s Michael Thomas has already been there and done that. A volunteer with Carroll County Special Olympics since 2002, Thomas has been taking the plunge since 2003.
“You kind of have to brave it and go in,” he said. “It’s not too bad once you get in and get used to it.”
But this year, Thomas is hoping to do something different; he wants to become a super plunger.
“This will be my 15th year doing it, so I thought, ‘What a great way to celebrate my 15th year, to be a super plunger?’ ”
Being a super plunger means making a bigger commitment to the cold, taking in the waters on Jan. 17, prior to the main plunge event.
“I go in once an hour for 24 hours,” said Thomas, who is on the autism spectrum. “We start going in at 10:30 a.m., and then we end Saturday around 11 a.m.”
There will be a special tent where he and other super plungers can warm themselves between their periodic cold water immersions.
But being a super plunger is also a bigger commitment to fundraising. While the regular plunge asks people to raise at least $75 to take the plunge, super plungers need to raise $10,000. As of Jan. 7, Thomas had raised $4,964. You can help him by making a donation online at support.somd.org/fundraiser/2223852.
“No matter how small of a donation, it will go a long way,” Thomas said.
And while it is too late to become a super plunger for 2020, those interested in participating in the regular Polar Bear Plunge on Jan. 25 may sign up online at www.somd.org.
The money raised by the super plungers, like that raised by the regular plunge participants, goes to support more than 8,000 Special Olympics athletes in Maryland, according to Thomas.
“They provide year-round sports training for athletes with intellectual disabilities, so they can compete year-round,” he said.
And it’s those athletes that motivated Thomas to get involved, and kept him coming back, year after year. Today, he is coaching basketball and soccer skills for Carroll County Special Olympics athletes.