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Special Olympics held their annual Polar Plunge fundraiser at Onslow Beach, Saturday, Jan. 8, 2011.

Photo by Amy Binkley

Freezin' for a Reason: Polar Plunge raises money for Special Olympics

8 Jan 2011 | Amy Binkley, The Globe

In January, most Saturday to-do lists don’t include jumping into the ocean.

Of course, the annual Polar Plunge isn’t an average fundraiser.

More than 300 people charged into the waters at Onslow Beach to raise $16,000, and counting, for the Onslow County Special Olympics.

Dawn McCullen, local coordinator, has been working with her team since July to make sure the event went off without a hitch.

"There’s a lot of people out here," she said. "Everyone knows someone with an intellectual disability, and we have 300 atheletes we support."

The Polar Plunge is the organization’s largest fundraiser of the year, and while many local residents and businesses participate, the military communities in the area are always well-represented.

Marines and sailors from Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, Camp Johnson and Marine Corps Air Stations New River and Cherry Point came out to support the athletes.

Gunnery Sgt. Barrett Kahl, Headquarters and Support Battalion, Company B, has participated in Special Olympics fundraisers since he was only 12 years old.

"I do as much as I can to help. I enjoy giving back," he said. "I came out to see the kids who will hug you 100 times before you can leave."

Col. Daniel J. Lecce, commanding officer of Camp Lejeune, was ready to lead his Marines into the bitterly cold waters. "It’s a fun and very worthy cause. It’s my community, and this is a great way to support it. Marines love this stuff."

While the team from MCAS New River walked away with the award for best costumes, a team full of superheroes, it didn’t deter other participants from showing off their designs.

Staff Sgt. Manuel Morin, Mobility Operational Instructional Company, got creative with his team costumes, dressing like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. "What else are we going to do on a Saturday morning?" he said. "It’s something special."

Community leaders and local businesses couldn’t keep from joining in the fun.

Sheriff Ed Brown made an appearance at the event but unfortunately had to leave his deputies and teammates to attend a funeral.

"My excitement was being able to plunge," he said. "I like to see the coast full of people supporting it. I look forward to it every year."

Despite the urge to stay in her warm bed, Sina Rubio, a military spouse, joined with Doc’s Ducks to face the frigid fall. "I got here and I’m pumped," she said.

Rubio’s teammate, Alissa Miller, who is also a military spouse, wouldn’t let the winter weather get her down. "I get to spend quality time with my co-workers for a good cause."

MARSOC’s team captain, Dawn Martin, admitted the chilly temperatures were intimidating. "Everybody’s a little nervous about it being cold, but we know it’s for a good cause to help out some great kids."

The eclectic group of participants was no surprise to McCullen.

"We’re such a transient community," she said. "They come out because we’re all affected. It means so much to the kids and adults to see they’re supported."

While waiting for the main event, some plungers and their children took part in the sandcastle building contest sponsored by Marine Corps Family Team Building from MCB Camp Lejeune.

"We do it because it’s something we can do to help the community. It’s important to be inclusive with people with special needs. It’s just another way to give back," said Evelyn DeNise, a volunteer.

The integrity of the Polar Plunge is so high, even celebrities are taking part.

Ruth Hochstrasser, one of the four Special Olympics athletes who took the plunge, got some famous fundraising help through her sorority sister, musician Gloria Gaynor.

Local meteorologist, Skip Waters, consulted with his cardiologist before leaping into the 45 degree Fahrenheit waves. "It’s a great cause and a fairly unique way to raise money."

Because the temperature of the water was warmer than on the beach, Waters held the theory that it wouldn’t feel as cold. Most plungers failed to agree with his assessment.

The athletes lead the charge towards the icy waves, followed by hundreds of supporters running at full speed. Though most merely ran in and turned around immediately, some plungers braved the chilly waters for more than three minutes.

Lt. Gen. Walter E. Gaskin, commander of NATO, said, "When you think about what these kids go through, this is a small price to pay so they can feel a sense of normality."

Mrs. Gaskin said, "Thank you on behalf of our athletes."

For more information about Onslow County Special Olympics, visit