Polar Bear Plungers’ Icy Rehoboth Dip Raises $900K for Special Olympics

It almost seems crazy that one of Delaware’s largest fundraising events of the year takes place on a typically frigid Sunday in February, requiring participants to slither into their bathing suits and jump into the ocean. But Special Olympics Delaware’s time-honored tradition makes great use of our shoreline, and diehard Lewes Polar Bear Plungers wouldn’t dare miss it.

More than 3,500 dashed into the waters of Rehoboth Beach this year at the 28th running of the plunge, helping to raise $906,000 for Special Olympics Delaware (SODE).

This was Ralph Cetrulo’s 15th consecutive year taking the plunge, and this year he was inspired to take not one but two plunges into the Atlantic. “Yesterday was a perfect day because there was no wind, the ocean was calm, and it was warm for February. So getting out of the water was not as bad. Of course, the water [which was a chilly 39 degrees] was still really cold,” said Cetrulo. “I’m one of these guys the goes all the way under.”

Cetrulo is on the Board of SODE, and as such, he invests time reaching out to friends well in advance of the plunge. Many come down and jump into the waters themselves. Others come for the excitement and the fun, which traditionally includes Bloody Mary’s at The Green Turtle on the Rehoboth Boardwalk before and after the plunge.

Over the last 15 years, Cetrulo and his wife have raised $250,000 for SODE . This year they raised $22,500 — half from friends, which the Cetrulo’s matched.  “And if anyone gives us $1,000, we take them to dinner at Sullivan’s. We’ve had a few folks who have generously supported us in that way.”  

Cetrulo doesn’t think twice now about suiting up for the plunge, no matter what conditions Mother Nature might throw his way. He says the anticipation is a lot worse than the actual event itself, which is over pretty quickly. “In 2004 it was my first plunge, and it was 18 degrees outside and the water was 32 degrees, and I asked myself how I was going to do it. But then your adrenaline takes over and I jumped in with all of the volunteers and it was great.”

Special Olympics Delaware provides year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for more than 4,200 children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Dozens of Special Olympics athletes took part in yesterday’s plunge, experiencing the same courage and joy that the event brings to thousands of Delawareans each year.


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