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  • Writer's pictureDylan Roche

Doing the Super Plunge to Benefit Special Olympics Maryland

Dylan Roche polar bear sandy point state park super plunge chesapeake bay
Doing the Super Plunge to benefit Special Olympics Maryland was the experience of a lifetime.

I’m officially checking the Super Plunge off my bucket list, but that’s not to say I might not do this stunt for a good cause again. In fact, after raising $10,000 for Special Olympics Maryland and jumping into the 30-degree water of the Chesapeake Bay 24 times in 24 hours, it took me only two or three days to resolve that yes, I definitely want to do this again next year.

People who know me know I’m willing to do anything a little bit crazy. What can I say—I love adventure. Not just reading it. No, I want to live it. Sometimes the static life of 21st-century suburbia just needs to be shaken up a little bit, and you have to go seeking adventure out for yourself, like you’re some fearless little hobbit setting forth from the Shire.

I decided I wanted to do what’s known as the Super Plunge back at the end of summer 2021. I’ve done the traditional Maryland Polar Bear Plunge every winter for the past few years. So obviously, doing the plunge 24 times around the clock just seemed like the reasonable next step.

Honestly, the bigger challenge would probably be raising the money for Special Olympics Maryland—you had to commit to raising $10,000, which goes to benefit more than 6,000 youth and adults with disabilities whom SOMD serves every year.

But as I set out on this fundraising mission, I immersed myself in learning more about Special Olympics and the way its mission changes lives. Participants in Special Olympics gain confidence and find joy through these games. It’s an organization that promotes inclusion and acceptance, and one that celebrates abilities rather than disabilities.

Dylan Roche sandy point state park chesapeake bay super plunge
Was this a challenge? Yes, but I am SO GLAD that I did it.

Over the months I spent fundraising, people were incredibly generous, sending donations my way right and left. I managed to hit the $10,000 goal the day before the plunge—and in the hours that followed, that number continued climbing by hundreds of dollars past goal.

I’ll be the first to admit that I got off slightly easy for my first time doing the Super Plunge. The unfortunate omicron surge meant the event had to be pushed back from January to March. And we had a beautiful 65-degree day on the shore of the Chesapeake Bay at Sandy Point State Park! Of course, the water was still reportedly hovering between 28 and 32 degrees for most of the day, and the air temperature dipped down into the 40s overnight. So, basically…it was still cold AF. It was still a challenge.

What Is It Like to Do the Super Plunge?

Okay, what was the experience like?

I arrived that morning without knowing anyone, but in a way, that made the whole experience much more exciting. When I’ve run ultramarathons and done other extreme activities like this, I find that the adventure ends up bringing people together. It’s like going to summer camp as a kid. Even if you arrive a stranger, it isn’t long before you’ve become close friends with everyone around you.

Dylan Roche sandy point state park chesapeake bay super plunge
Just hanging out on the beach between plunges

That turned out to be the case here. From the moment I started setting up my cot in the heated tent where we’d spend the next day and night, people were introducing themselves and making me feel welcome. Some of my fellow plungers were people who had been doing this for years. Some were even Special Olympic athletes themselves. Everyone had a story, and everyone had a special connection to this cause.

Now the part that you’re really wondering about: Yes, that water is cold. Everyone gathers on the beach before each plunge, and then after a countdown from 10, everyone runs in together. The water feels as if it’s piercing you all over your body. It almost hurts a little bit. But then you come running back up onto the beach and the air honestly feels a lot worse! A dry towel and a warm sweatshirt have never felt so good.

I’ll be the first to admit that the plunges during the day were great, but it was a little hard to keep the stamina going throughout the night. By the time midnight rolled around, the thrill of it had worn off, and I had to push through with sheer determination.

I think it was after the midnight plunge that one of my fellow plungers looked at me on our walk back to the tent and noticed that my hair was dripping wet. “Are you still going head under?” he asked.

Wait…was I not supposed to be going head under? In my mind, it didn’t count if you didn’t plunge all the way in. Right? But I guess some people were going in up to their waist and calling it done. There was no reason I couldn’t do that! For a couple of the late-night plunges, I went in only up to my waist. But that quickly became boring, and I was soon plunging head under again.

I also learned from some long-time super plungers about a practice they call “banking.” If you plunge multiple times one hour, you can count those plunges toward your 24 and skip an hour. So let’s say it was midnight and you ran into the water, came back out, and ran back in again, then you’d have the option of banking that extra plunge and skipping 1:00AM.

So yeah, I took advantage of that tactic and enjoyed a little bit of a late-night nap by skipping the 4:00AM and 5:00AM plunges. My last plunge before this little break—the 3:00AM plunge—was the one where I realized that a lot of people were banking. There were significantly fewer plungers out there at 3:00AM than there were earlier in the night.

By the time morning dawned—and that sunrise over the Chesapeake Bay was beautiful—I knew that all I would be taking from these 24 hours was good memories. It was an amazing experience. I learned so much about Special Olympics Maryland as an organization, the community it serves, and even my own abilities as a fundraiser. I’ll be totally honest: I’m already looking forward to doing it again next year.

Should You Consider Doing the Super Plunge?

Yes, if you’re somebody who wants to join a good cause and even go through an adventure along the way, I would definitely tell you to consider joining the Super Plunge next year. Here are some reasons:

1) You will gain a new appreciation for what Special Olympics Maryland does. Thanks to the ambassador program, you’ll get to build one-on-one relationships with Special Olympics athletes. You get to hear empowering and inspiring stories. And you’ll definitely find yourself emotionally invested in the cause.

2) You learn a lot about yourself. Raising $10,000 is a lot of money, but you have the power to rally others for a cause. I reached out to everyone I knew and dedicated a lot of my social media presence for months to letting people know what I was doing. I didn’t know I had the power to influence people the way I did, but once I started telling them about Special Olympics, I think many of them were convinced by my passion. Of course, I’m also very blessed to have many generous and supportive connections who were more than happy to support me here.

3) Finally, it’s fun. Yes, the water is cold. But what’s a few jumps in the cold water when you get to spend the rest of the 59 minutes every hour inside a heated tent where you can enjoy games, music, food, and camaraderie. Besides, the thrill of jumping in that cold water gives you some serious bragging rights, and who doesn’t like to brag about something crazy they did for a good cause?

And of course, I’m always happy to help convince somebody to do this! I thought it was the experience of a lifetime, and I’d love to talk more people into it.

If you’re thinking about it but not 100% sure, feel free to shoot me an email at dylanrochewriter [at] gmail [dot] come or send me a DM on Instagram or Twitter to discuss the details. I’ll convince you that there is, as they say, a good reason to be freezin’. The water might be cold, but your heart will be warm—and while the cold is temporary, the good memories and sense of pride will last much, much longer.

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