On the Waterfront

February 28, 2011

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An oversized Whoopee cushion, several superheroes and an assortment of costumed critters joined their ‘human’ classmates for Saturday’s Polar Plunge – an icy dip into NC State’s Lake Raleigh – to help raise more than $60,000 for Special Olympics North Carolina.

At any other time, it would have taken a ferocious, man-eating predator to force me to jump into a freezing body of water. But the chance to support a great cause – and, of course, a little ‘encouragement’ from my editor here at ncsu.edu – was all I needed to take the plunge.

“The Polar Plunge really benefits NC State by the number of people this event brings out from students, faculty, and staff,” said Steve Carlton, the primary organizer of the event and a crime prevention officer with NC State University Police.

Kubinsky, Kelly and Aaron Ledford stood out in the crowd gathered for this year's Polar Plunge.

Waterproof camera in hand, I ventured out to Centennial, where I was immediately greeted by a three-student team – “Vicious, Delicious, and Suspicious” – whose members wore a shark costume, a chicken costume and a red, head-to-toe bodysuit, respectively.

As I stood in line with my new companions, awaiting the inevitable moment in which we’d enter the frigid waters together, my teeth begin to chatter and I glanced around for an escape route. My doubts were quickly alleviated, however, by the overwhelming feeling of solidarity within the group of plungers and the shouts of encouragement that came from onlookers as each plunger took “the dip.”

“I did the plunge because I believe in Special Olympics,” said John Kubinsky, a senior in criminology and the aforementioned, chicken-suited participant. “My brother has autism, and he participates in them – it’s such a great cause.”

Then, our moment arrived. With little hesitation, I walked forward, holding out my camera to capture the moment. The shock of the cold was instantly exhilarating, and when we stood up again, I felt more than alive.

Then, I walked away with hair drenched in lake water, an uncontrollable shiver, and an overwhelming sense of gratitude to have been able to support such a worthy cause.

Candace Jones ('11), left, races into the water alongside her soon-to-be-soaked animal friends.

With more than 38,000 registered athletes, Special Olympics North Carolina provides year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

Morrisville’s Brett Howell (16:13) and Raleigh’s Tracie Talbert (20:57), set the pace for male and female participants in Saturday’s 5K run, which preceded the Plunge.

“This is just a very fun way to support the Special Olympics,” said the shark, otherwise known as Dylan Kelly, a senior in – what else – animal science.

“Every year we do this, it gets bigger and better,” Carlton said, “with participants and fundraisers coming back year after year to stay involved because of the benefit it brings to Special Olympics athletes across North Carolina so that they never have to pay to compete.

“The rapport that this event has built over the years between NC State employees, students and our partners on Centennial Campus – and all their family and friends – is truly amazing.”

Photo credits: Roger Winstead/University Communications (top, gallery), Chas Bridwell/Tend1Soul Photography (inset photos)