Polar Bear Plunge back in Seaside Heights this weekend
SEASIDE HEIGHTS — After celebrating its 25th anniversary last year, the Polar Bear Plunge at Seaside is returning yet again, and is already fast approaching its fundraising goal of $2 million for 2019.
Retired State Police Maj. Kevin Burke, the event's chairman, has been with the Plunge nearly since its inception, and remembers the turnout of the early days — just six dozen people running into the ocean, scraping together $23,000 for Special Olympics New Jersey. Now, there are already 6,000 participants signed up for this year's event, tens of thousands more will be spectators, and together they've raised $1.2 million.
The 2018 Polar Bear Plunge at Seaside brought in a record $2.2 million.
All of the proceeds go to Special Olympics New Jersey, less some minor expenses, and Burke said that money pays for uniforms, equipment, travel arrangements, and food for 25,000 Special Olympics athletes in Garden State for their various competitions each year.
Many of those athletes will be in Seaside Heights on Saturday, Feb. 23, plunging alongside everyone else, something Burke called an "absolutely unbelievable experience." He said the money raised by each Plunge (there are also annual ones in Asbury Park and Wildwood) enhances quality of life for the athletes and their families.
"That's, to me, what it's all about," Burke said. "And to bring them joy, and they have fun and they get treated like rock stars, that means the world to me."
New Jersey 101.5's Big Joe Henry has been involved in the Polar Bear Plunge for 23 of its 26 years, and calls it a "phenomenal success." Burke described Big Joe as the fiber, core, and foundation of the event, and said he has helped Special Olympics grow it significantly.
Burke also credited local PBAs, the borough of Seaside Heights, and the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office with providing continued assistance.
He urged participants and spectators to arrive early on the morning of the 23rd, not only for parking purposes but also because of the logistics of getting everyone on the beach due to replenishment efforts undertaken since Superstorm Sandy. He additionally encouraged Plunge-goers to stick around after the event wraps up.
"Come down, have fun, patronize the businesses in town," Burke said. "They welcome us with open arms, the town of Seaside Heights, they couldn't be a more gracious host."
For more, visit plungeseaside.org.
Patrick Lavery is Senior Producer of Morning News and Special Programming for New Jersey 101.5, and is lead reporter and substitute anchor for "New Jersey's First News." He has never participated in the Plunge, but can usually be found hanging around the Spicy Cantina with the 101.5 crew during that day. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.