Special Olympics Rhode Island's 47th annual Penguin Plunge

Participants of the Special Olympics Rhode Island's 47th annual Penguin Plunge head back to shore at Roger Wheeler State Beach in Narragansett after an icy dip on Sunday afternoon.

Despite a global pandemic the last two years, East Providence Fire Department Capt. John Potvin and Coventry’s Hopkins Hill Fire Department would always find a way to take part in the Special Olympics of Rhode Island (SORI)’s annual Penguin Plunge.

“Even in the COVID years we still found a way,” said Potvin, who showed up to the 47th installment on Sunday with 11 other firefighters. “One year, we did it in somebody’s hot tub. And then one year we had a fire truck spray us. It was like a big shower.”

The group has participated in the plunge in some form, for 22 consecutive years.

“Because of the cause,” Potvin said. “The Special Olympics of Rhode Island is a great cause – (we) try to support the athletes and all the activities the organization provides for the athletes and their families.”

The dozen from the department on Sunday joined 600-700 others who flocked Roger Wheeler State Beach to help raise proceeds for more than 3,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities, who compete year-round in over 1,600 training opportunities and athletic competitions.

As onlookers danced to the YMCA and participants ran through the January breeze and into the water, one thing was clear Senior Director of Special Events Tracy Garabedian said: The plunge was finally back to full capacity.

“Obviously, I think we’re still trying to keep everybody safe,” Garabedian said. “Last year, we had to do it in waves and a much smaller plunge. So, this is our first time in really three years that we’re back as one big plunge.”

Over 300 people preregistered, prior to 300-400 people showing up in the morning.

A $25 fee was charged for registration, which went toward each participants’ fundraising total.

Anyone who raised $50 earned a Penguin Plunge short sleeved shirt, while anyone who raised $100 earned a long sleeve shirt.

“It’s good, it’s not our best year (in turnout size), but it was very good,” Garabedian said. “I was a little disappointed with the crowd, but I think, again, with COVID and there’s other plunges happening as well. We are the original plunge and I think now there are so many smaller plunges that people may have found. But, dollar wise, we’re gonna hit our goal of $100,000 probably exceed that. So, we’re thrilled about that. We couldn’t have asked for a better day, spectacular weather the sun is shining so, I think that’s why I’m surprised we didn’t have more people.”

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