Time for a dip in the ocean! Local residents to participate in Polar Bear Plunge for Special Olympics
by Jim Hague Reporter staff writer
Mar 11, 2007 | 408 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Lifelong Weehawken resident Katie Lynch-Ferrante is finishing up her studies at William Paterson University, where she is majoring in history, with the intent of becoming a teacher.

In fact, Lynch-Ferrante is already student teaching in Clifton at a learning center, working with special needs students there.

"Some of the students there participate in Special Olympics," Lynch-Ferrante said. "Just from working there, I wanted to do something to help them."

Lynch-Ferrante saw a flier for the annual Polar Bear Plunge, the largest fundraising effort by the New Jersey Special Olympics. Participants collect pledges from businesses and private donors and then take to Seaside Heights to plunge into the frigid waters of the Atlantic Ocean Saturday, Feb. 24.

When the Plunge began in 1992, only 85 people participated. Now, there are more than 2,500 people who take the icy dive.

Special Olympics of New Jersey helps more than 15,000 athletes train and compete free-of-charge, year-round in 21 Olympic-type sports.

The Polar Bear Plunge has become a big-time event.

"It was a little intimidating and a little scary," Lynch-Ferrante said. "I know a lot of people don't think I would be able to do it, because I'm always so cold. Others think I'm crazy. But I thought it was a good cause and I was willing to try."

So Lynch-Ferrante approached the idea with the members of the Echelon Row chapter of her sorority, Alpha Sigma Alpha. Although most are all alumni members now, they were more than willing to take a frosty dip for the cause.

"Part of the mission of the sorority is philanthropy," said Lynch-Ferrante, a 2000 graduate of Weehawken High School. "We try to raise money and volunteer our time all the time. It's our goal to help."

The members of Alpha Sigma Alpha were ready to - pardon the pun - dive in headfirst.

"I thought it was an excellent idea," said sorority member Adrienne Guagenti of Parsippany. "It sounded like it would be so much fun and it was for a good cause. When I tell people I'm doing this, they think I'm nuts. But it's what I want to do."

Fellow member Amanda Rillo had no apprehension.

"My immediate reaction was, 'thank God, someone else thinks like me,' " said Rillo, a native of Whippany. "Any chance I get, I want to go in the water. I don't care if it's the winter. People say, 'Amanda, you're crazy. Whatever floats your boat.' I tell them my boat floats in the ocean."

So a group of the sorority will head to the shore this weekend and take the icy plunge for charity.

"None of us has ever done it," Lynch-Ferrante said. "We're all looking forward to it. A bunch of our sorority sisters are coming just to support us and to warm us up afterwards."

The Alpha Sigma Alpha sorority has raised a little more than $1,000 thus far, with more on the horizon.

Union City cops also ready

The college girls are not alone in their daring dipping. For the 14th straight year since its inception, the Union City police Department will bring a contingent down the shore for the Polar Bear Plunge. The idea stemmed from retired Police Officer Eddie McGuire.

According to Police Officer Tony Onorato, who is coordinating the efforts for the fourth consecutive year, the officers look forward to helping Special Olympics.

"The motivation for doing it is the kids," Onorato said. "Between the Polar Bear Plunge and the Torch Run, we raise about $15,000 annually for Special Olympics. We get about 20 to 30 guys who want to help out and go into the water."

Onorato said that the patrolmen hit the local businesses and ask for donations.

"About 90 percent of what we raise comes from the businesses," Onorato said. "They really reach out and help us."

So what's it like to dive into the frigid ocean waters?

Onorato is a veteran, having done it eight times.

"I usually get in and get out," Onorato said. "I'm in there for definitely under a minute. Some people stay in there longer. I can't do it. I hope it's going to be quick again this year. When it's that cold, you have to get out quick. But it's a fun day and it's all for the kids."

To learn more about the Polar Bear Plunge, log on to www.njpolarplunge.sonj.org Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at either OGSMAR@aol.com or jhague@hudsonreporter.com
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