Arctic cold postpones Penguin Plunge

Johnston Sun Rise ·

Like most people, Greg Russo was ecstatic that Special Olympics Rhode Island postponed, not cancelled, its 42nd Annual Penguin Plunge.

“I really thought it would be too risky for our students,” Russo told the Sun Rise on New Year’s Eve and just hours before the scheduled January 1 plunge into the frigid waters at Roger Wheeler State Beach in Narragansett was to take place. “Honestly, I wasn’t going to let anyone go; it was simply too cold.”

Even Russo’s brother Johnston Town Councilman Robert V. Russo who has taken part in the Penguin Plunge in recent years, was not going to participate in Monday’s event because of the freezing temperatures and winds that were raising havoc throughout the state.

Although word of postponements of other New Year’s Day plunges dotted the television stations earlier this week, three plunges including the SORI Penguin Plunge held out hope of having their annual “fund-raising swim” go on as scheduled.

But sometime around noon Sunday, SORI Director of Communications & Marketing Gerri Walter issued an urgent media advisory regarding the Penguin Plunge.

“Due to the record breaking cold and the wind chill temperatures predicted for January 1, Special Olympics Rhode Island has made the decision to postpone the Penguin Plunge,” Walter said. “This is the first time in 42 years that the Penguin Plunge has been postponed due to weather conditions.”

Walter, who has previously sent out an extensive media advisory detailing a map of the Penguin Plunge replete with a First Aid Station, said, “We strongly urge people to use their good judgment. If you have any sort of medical condition, you should not plunge. If you’ve been sick or are fighting an illness, don’t plunge. We strongly suggest young children do not plunge.”

She also stated in both advisories: “The safety of our plungers is always of the utmost importance to us and we don’t want to take any chances with the freezing temperatures. This has always been a fun, annual event and we want you to not only look forward to it, but to also feel safe while participating with friend sand family.”

Walter said that SORI is working on a new date to reschedule and hope that those who were planning to plunge Monday, as well as additional people, will make up the unique 2018 event when its held and possibly set a new single season record.

“Very smart move,” Russo said when learning of the postponement. “Last year we had a bus full of students participate and we were hoping for more this time. However, when the temperatures kept dipping and dipping, some people were apprehensive and our contribution wouldn’t have been as great as last year for SORI.”

With a new date in the works, Russo said, “Our JHS students could possibly have more than last year which means that our donation will be much greater this time than anyone expected.”

Russo, a JHS faculty member and advisor, said there’s still an opportunity for undergrads to join the Student Council when the Plunge will take place. In most cases, suggested plunge donations, according to Walter, begin at $50.

The 2017 Penguin Plunge raised $134,000 and to date the 41 total plunges have helped SORI take in over $3 million. Thus, JHS students should contact Russo if they’re interested in plunging while others can call SORI at 349-4900.