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Polar Plunge provides frigid fun

Brockport top fundraising school at charity event, captures third Cool School Award

Published: Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Updated: Friday, March 9, 2012 03:03

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Media credit: William Matthias

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Nick Wurl

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Nick Wurl

What does a 34-degree Lake Ontario feel like in the dead of a Rochester winter?"

Not as bad as I thought it was going to be, but I can't feel my feet," said Chris Fernandez said, McFarlane Resident Assistant (RA).

Fernandez and his girlfriend, RA Brianna Sepulveda, braved the wintry waters at Ontario Beach Park on Valentine's Day, Sunday, Feb. 14, for the Tenth Annual Torch Run Polar Plunge to support Special Olympics New York.

For the new couple, it was a great way to "break the ice."

"She kept me warm after [the plunge]," Fernandez said.

More than 110 Brockport students, or plungers, participated in the charitable event, raising more than $8,000. As the top fundraising school team, the Brockport Golden Eagles won the "Cool School" award for its third consecutive year, and ranked second overall.

The prize for the "Cool School" is a WBEE-sponsored private concert by a national country music recording artist. The musical act and concert date is expected to be announced in the coming weeks. Competing schools included Rochester Institute of Technology, University of Rochester and St. John Fisher College.

The Gates Keystone Pipes and Drums band led the 1,000-plus plungers down the path to the lake as the crowd rallied behind the band. The spectators were cloaked in winter clothing, enduring chilly 29-degree weather, but the plungers were dressed for a hot summer's day.

Some wore two-piece bathing suits. Others sported T-shirts and shorts and still others, only shorts and sneakers. A handful of plungers were covered in crazy costumes, from an Elvis ensemble to a transgendered lifeguard guise. Kermit the Frog joined the party, too.

The Rochester Polar Plunge provides the college with an opportunity to develop a larger community kinship while contributing to a cause IT considers worthy.

"It's nice to get students off campus in a way that involves the Greater Rochester Community," said plunger Jeff Taylor, director of Business Career Services at Brockport.

Nathan Herbert, Brockport Student Government vice president, agreed.

"This is a rare opportunity to get a sense of community around charity," he said. "To raise money for a good cause and have fun at the same time -- it's hard to get those things together for one event."

The Rochester Polar Plunge was a part of the 2010 Lakeside Winter Celebration, where locals gathered for a variety of events and activities. These include the Chilly Chili Challenge, the First Annual Ice Wine Festival and horse-drawn sleigh rides.

Participation in Special Olympic New York's state-wide and Rochester-region Polar Plunges has steadily increased over the years. In 2009, 1,088 Rochester plungers raised about $190,000, said Amy Schedlbauer, assistant director of development for Special Olympics New York. In 2007, the non-profit organization raised about $100,000 during the Rochester Polar Plunge, which had only 600 participants.

In the last three years alone, state-wide plunges have raised more than $1.3 million. As of Monday, Feb. 15, donations for the 2010 Rochester Polar Plunge reached $109,975. Total donations will be calculated during the week of Feb. 15 and posted online at www.kintera.org/faf/home.

Last year, Brockport raised about $10,540 and had more than 120 plungers, tripling participation from 2008. Brockport's goal this year was $12,500. Paul Giglio, Brockport Polar Plunge chair, said Brockport is the first school in New York to raise at least $10,000. Although the team may not reach its goal, he is satisfied with the outcome of the event.

"I am very happy with the turnout and couldn't have asked for anything better," Giglio said. "Everything came together in the end and I am very excited to see where we stand when the final donations are calculated. I have a strong feeling we will have raised at least $10,000 again."

Giglio has been preparing for the plunge since late October, brainstorming donation-raising ideas and delegating responsibilities to the 30-plus students who recruited participants and raised funds. The Brockport Golden Eagles ran three campaigns to raise awareness and donations.

The team's efforts proved successful on Valentine's Day, as it submitted $8,000-plus in donations and happily immersed themselves in the frigid lake to support the Special Olympians. 

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