The air temperature at Goddard Memorial State Park Sunday was only 37 degrees and the water temperature was just a tad higher at 40 degrees.
Yet, upwards of 125 people, wearing a variety of colorful garb and costumes, were waiting to plunge into Greenwich Bay and raise money for Special Olympics Rhode Island (SORI).
With an enthusiastic crowd estimated at over 500 people looking on, the plungers scooted in and out of the bone-chilling water upon the signal at noon and almost immediately came ashore and wrapped their bodies in everything from oversized beach towels to blankets.
Although a swift offshore breeze prevented a sparkling sun from warming the participants, who took their cue from Richmond Police Chief Elwood Johnson who plunged once an hour for 24 hours, Cranston native Dennis DeJesus sent a sudden heat wave throughout the crowd.
“Ladies and gentlemen, because of your overwhelming support Special Olympics Rhode Island today raised a record total $50,000!” shouted DeJesus, who was dressed in warm weather apparel and a ski cap, through a portable sound system that was set up on beach. “Today, you made it possible for Special Olympics Rhode Island to set a record!”
And instantly, there were cheers, applause and even a few air horns. And those cheers and well wishes continued when dozens upon dozens of people crowded into every nook and cranny of the former carousel building for a post-plunge party.
“This was a good day for Special Olympics [Rhode Island], no doubt,” said DeJesus, who during his three-and-a-half-year tenure as CEO has worked tirelessly to make SORI among the most respected non-profit agencies in New England. “And we only budgeted $30,000 for the plunge ... when we come out to net, everything will hopefully add up to $40,000.”
But as the always-humble DeJesus has operated, he quickly heaped praise upon each participant as well as a number of Rhode Island’s police and fire departments.
“We set a record today,” DeJesus said. “And that was because of the tremendous work that various police and fire departments put into this event. It’s an extension of our annual Torch Run that precedes the annual Rhode Island Special Olympics Games at URI May 31 to June 2.”
Police and fire departments from all over the state, who DeJesus explained “run events throughout the year for SORI,” as well as the 2013 class of the Rhode Island Municipal Police Training Academy and even a few Rhode Island State Police officers participated in Sunday’s sixth annual Torch Run Plunge. Even the Cranston Police Department sent its dive team to take the plunge.
When asked if he was surprised with Sunday’s turnout, DeJesus said, “We are just starting to recruit high school groups. I’m very, very surprised with the number of plungers today. This event continues to grow and expand; if we can get more high schools involved, I firmly believe we can get up to $75,000.”
The CEO then praised SORI staffers Tracey Garabedian and Lauren Testoni for their outstanding effort prior to and during the well-organized event.
“Tracey did a wonderful job,” DeJesus said of Garabedian, SORI’s director of development. “She and Lauren added a lot from a staff perspective and made it a super success.”
Testoni is SORI’s special events/grants coordinator.
Her most recent efforts resulted in high schools like Smithfield, La Salle Academy, Central Falls, East Greenwich, Portsmouth, East Providence, Cranston West, Coventry and Warwick’s Pilgrim High sending a large team of students to Sunday’s plunge.
The Pilgrim team was decked out in a variety of St. Patrick’s Day garb and led by Ian Smith, an English teacher who joined in when the Patriots plunged into the freezing water.
Yet another highlight of Sunday’s Torch Run Plunge was a morning-long appearance of popular WPRI-TV/Fox icons, news anchor Mike Montecalvo and chief meteorologist Tony Petrarca.
“They’re also going to take the plunge,” DeJesus said of the television personalities, who wore T-shirts and shorts and did get wet Sunday. “They also really helped in our promotion and made this event special!”
Events like the Torch Run Plunge will help further enhance special athletes, as Special Olympics Rhode Island offers training and athletic competition for 2,800 athletes in 25 sports year-round. For further information of an event’s schedule, call SORI at 349-4900.
Upcoming SORI events
March 21 - Providence College Aquatics Time Trials, 5:30 p.m. at PC
March 23 - Senior Unified Duckpin Bowling Tournament at Town Hall Lanes, Johnston
March 24 - Junior Unified Duckpin Bowling Tournament at Town Hall Lanes, Johnston
March 24 - Powerlifting Qualifier at Trudeau Center, Warwick
April 6 - Unified Tenpin Bowling Tournament at Cranston Bowl, Cranston
April 6 - Annual Fashion Show at Twin River Event Center.