REHOBOTH BEACH — A feeling of camaraderie and generosity, plus some good old-fashioned craziness, is set to return to the frigid salt water at Rehoboth Beach on Feb. 6, 2022.
Jon Buzby, spokesman for Special Olympics Delaware, said the 31st annual Lewes Polar Bear Plunge will be held both in person and virtually after being relegated to a virtual-only event due to COVID-19 concerns and restrictions last year.
“We’re going to be offering the virtual plunge and also the plunge at the beach at Rehoboth Beach,” Mr. Buzby said of Special Olympics Delaware’s largest fundraising event. “We think it’s going to be a mix. We think the die-hard bears who have done it at the beach for years will do it.”
The Polar Bear Plunge, which raised a record of more than $1 million for Special Olympics in 2020, supports more than 4,200 Special Olympics athletes in Delaware.
The annual event always attracts thousands of bears and even more spectators to Rehoboth Beach on the first Sunday in February.
Mr. Buzby said proceeds raised from the plunge help provide year-round sports training and competition for athletes.
Additionally, contributions and involvement help athletes achieve their goals, live healthier lives and have a sense of inclusion in the community.
Mr. Buzby said that he believes the mix of in-person and virtual plunging will benefit all who are interested in participating in next year’s event.
“We also really think that the virtual opportunity for our schools, especially, and maybe some people in neighborhoods to get community people together to do it, really could be a hit as well,” he said. “That’s because a lot of schools did it last year, virtually.
“But we also know a lot of schools that we’ve already talked to are set to come to the beach again. It’s going to be a win-win, I think — and it’s not on Super Bowl Sunday next year.”
That’s because the Super Bowl has been moved to Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022, due to the National Football League expanding its season from 16 games to 17 games.
The Polar Bear Plunge is an opportunity for people to get together for a good cause and has grown immensely since its beginning three decades ago.
The annual Lewes Polar Bear Plunge has raised more than $10 million for Special Olympics programs since its inaugural event in 1992.
The coldest plunge on record came in 1995 when 339 people jumped into the ocean when the air temperature was zero degrees with a minus-25 wind chill.
“The plunge is the plunge and that’s what attracts people is it’s an opportunity to get together with people and, in a lot of cases, that’s the only time they see each other,” said Mr. Buzby. “We hear stories that are sort of like college reunions, where people come down (to Rehoboth Beach) and they plan it, and are like, ‘I can’t get together that week, I’ve got to go to the plunge.’
“We know that people really do appreciate the opportunity to get together at the beach, be on the beach, be caught up in the momentum and all the excitement that you can’t get when you do it virtually.”
Mr. Buzby added, “But again, people can come up with their own creative ways to do it virtually. We saw a lot of excitement last year when we got the videos of people doing it virtually.”
Cindy Atkinson has been a member of the Smyrna Plunging Peers for several years. She recalled the feeling of jumping into the ocean water in February just before the last in-person plunge back in 2020.
“The energy on the beach is undeniable,” said Ms. Atkinson. “So many people coming together to do something a little crazy all in the name of Special Olympics.
“I plunge because I have gotten to witness firsthand the magic that Special Olympics brings to people’s lives. The cold is temporary but that feeling of happiness lasts a lifetime.”