REHOBOTH BEACH — The time is drawing near for “polar bears” to emerge from hibernation and head into the Atlantic Ocean.
For others, in the uncertain world of COVID-19, it might mean getting doused in the cozy confines of one’s backyard or in a hot tub halfway across the country.
Feb. 6 at 1 p.m. is the time for the 2022 Lewes Polar Bear Plunge for Special Olympics Delaware, an iconic event that will return to the sands of Rehoboth Beach after pandemic restrictions forced last year’s festivities to have virtual-only participation.
It’s the 31st edition of the plunge, which offers in-person and virtual opportunities and is presented by Wawa and Discover Bank.
Options are to join those on the beach along the boardwalk that day or plunge on your own whenever and wherever you please. Either way, it adds up to support for Special Olympics Delaware, which serves some 4,200 athletes in the First State.
“Like a lot of organizations have realized when we were forced to offer virtual opportunities in any event, … we decided that, because the virtual event was so successful last year, (then) why not offer that every year?” said SODE spokesman Jon Buzby.
“We had people telling us that one of the reasons they don’t come on Sunday is it’s Super Bowl Sunday, which it is not anymore (Super Bowl LVI is Feb. 13). They don’t want to fight the crowds. They don’t want to take the entire day, whatever. And it’s just more convenient for them to do it on their own time.”
To register, participants put down a $10 deposit and a commitment to raise a minimum of $75 by Feb. 6. Or they can pay the full $75 at first and continue to fundraise until the day of the plunge.
Bears can join the event individually, create a team or join an existing one. If a team participates virtually, members can all gather in one place or plunge in separate locations. Organizers note that no video or photo proof is need to officially be a polar bear.
Last year’s virtual plunge, undertaken by 2,300 bears, raised more than $700,000, exceeding SODE’s target of reaching 60% of 2020’s event. That year, the plunge surpassed the $1 million mark for the first time.
“People got really creative (virtually), whether it was somebody by themselves, which happened, or what happened in my driveway, where we had 50 neighbors over. We brought a firetruck, and they doused everybody there, and that was our plunge,” said Mr. Buzby.
“As we say, ‘You’re anywhere, anytime, and you control the water temperature.’ A lot of people like that idea. There are no rules. One of my best friends from high school plunged in Arizona last year in a hot tub. He got his Polar Bear Plunge sweatshirt and can officially say he was a polar bear,” he added. “It all goes back to, we tell people, ‘You own your own plunge. You plunge how you want.’”
The two options cater to participants who either wish to brave the thrill and chill of the ocean and to those who may have health concerns or other reasons for not jumping in at the beach.
“We know there are some people that, if we only offer the in-person plunge, would not come because they are uncomfortable to be in a crowd at this time of where we are in America. So we have eliminated that leeriness by giving them that opportunity to plunge virtually,” said Mr. Buzby.
“We think there is opportunities for neighborhoods, for schools, for businesses, who want to plunge, but they, for whatever reason, … they can’t, don’t want to … or aren’t willing to come down on Sunday and plunge. So far, we’ve seen that to be true,” he said. “We have several schools that are doing a virtual plunge. Some of them will come to the plunge with a group that wants to come. But the ones who can’t will plunge at their school. They have found ways to be creative and still be part of the event and still contribute to Special Olympics, which is what this event is all about.”
Due to the spike in COVID-19 cases, Special Olympics Maryland on Monday announced postponement of the Maryland State Police’s Polar Bear Plunge from early February to March 26. That event is staged at Sandy Point State Park in Annapolis, a smaller venue than Rehoboth Beach offers.
“We have miles of beach,” said Mr. Buzby. “We use eight blocks. We could use more if we had to.”
SODE’s decision to proceed with plans for both in-person and virtual plunges was made Tuesday.
However, health concern has impacted two events associated with the plunge. The Fire & Ice Festival, a wings-and-ice-cream event Feb. 5, and the Après Plunge Party have been canceled due to their being indoors.
“The sole purpose of both of those events is to eat inside. So we felt it was irresponsible to hold those events,” said Mr. Buzby.
Other plunge activities are still planned, including the Restaurant Chili Contest and the 5K Run to the Plunge, the time of which has been changed to 10 a.m. Feb. 5.
In its history, the Lewes Polar Bear Plunge has raised $13.7 million for SODE.
For updates and to register, visit here.