About 6,000 jump into the Chesapeake for the annual Polar Bear Plunge

About 6,000 jump in the Chesapeake for the annual Polar Bear Plunge this weekend.

After working 10 Polar Bear Plunge events, George Hauf knows how to keep warm.

Unlike the "plungers" who run past mounds of snow — with exposed skin — and splash into the chilly waters of the Chesapeake, the Baltimore police lieutenant assigned to the city's dive team can layer up in polar fleece and long underwear underneath his police-issued waterproof dry fit suit.

Hauf was among the several dozen officers who stood watch in waist-deep water, keeping an eye on participants and making sure they didn't stray too far or stay under too long. Behind him were six law enforcement boats and a clear view of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

"It's pretty nice," Hauf said of Saturday's weather, as the 37-degree water sparkled under the bright sunlight. "This actually isn't bad."

For organizers, the 20th annual event required extra preparations this year: They had to clear nearly 2 feet of snow from the parking lots, pathways and even the beach at Sandy Point State Park in Annapolis, said Jason Schriml, a spokesman with the Special Olympics Maryland. Organizers also had to take down the tops of concession tents, which were put up before last week's snowstorm, because they would not hold the large amount of snow.

"There was some concern initially when we were all shoveling out," he said. But through the efforts of volunteers, the Maryland State Police and the park, he said, the snow was cleaned up by Wednesday.

All the added effort was worth it, Schriml said. An estimated 6,000 people participated, and the plunge raised $1,580,047 for the Special Olympics as of Saturday, according to the event website. Schriml said organizers expected to meet the $2 million goal, which will fund training and competitions for 169 athletes in 24 sports.

While Saturday's plunge went on as planned, organizers weren't so lucky in 2014. That event had to be postponed until March due to the threat of strong winds and high waves.

Hauf recalled slogging in the water past bits of ice in past years. His dry suit, which looks like shiny rubber after he's taken a stroll in the surf, goes up to his neck. He had bright orange gloves made of the same material, which can zip on to the suit, making a waterproof seal, he said.

The suit is normally used for evidence recovery or search-and-rescue missions in the city.

Even though he wears waterproof pants, it doesn't completely protect him from the cold. "Your feet feel like stumps," he said.

To prepare for her plunge, Karen Callen, 52, of Arnold, sipped on hot coffee as she stood on the beach. After taking her quick dip, she and her friend Jim Downs, 53, of Montgomery County clasped their hands together — almost as if for warmth — as they ran out of the water and back onto the beach.

Callen wore a bathing suit bottom, long-sleeved shirt and knit cap, while Downs wore swim trunks, a sleeveless shirt and a Rastafarian hat with fake dreadlocks. He said the hat was one of his kid's old Halloween costumes.

Downs, who coaches several Special Olympics events such as power lifting, softball and basketball, said many of his athletes didn't recognize him. But dressing up is part of the fun, he said.

Some of the officers working the event had posed for pictures with someone dressed as Natty Boh's mustachioed mascot Mr. Boh. Hauf and another officer said they spotted a participant in a gorilla suit. The "gorilla" wore a red-and-white checkered cloth and was accompanied by two people dressed as bananas.

Allen Bowser, 36, an event volunteer from Laurel, who has jumped into frigid waters for the fundraiser since 2000, said the trick is to wear as little as possible and have some warm baggy clothes you can easily pull on after, when your motor skills are a little delayed by the cold water.

But he said he breaks his own rule and always wears a tuxedo T-shirt. He said he also makes a point to wade all the way out to the line of officers, and like many others, gives them a high-five.

Or else, Bowser said, "it's not a real plunge."



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