WILDWOOD – The Wildwood Polar Bear Plunge, now in its 18th year, brings a flurry of people to a small slice of the beach by the Wildwoods Convention Center, where 750 participants raised over $300,000 for Special Olympics New Jersey.
This year’s plunge, on Saturday, Jan. 13, was sunny, windy and marked by a shin-deep, water-filled gully that participants, and members of the media, trudged through before lining up at the start line.
It wasn’t just humans who braved the cold – several dogs were more than happy to get their fur wet. Meggan Seidelmann, from Maple Shade, brought her collie Bishop alongside her into the ocean. “He helped me raise over $500,” she said.
Stephanie Bea, from Clayton, had someone specific in mind when she jumped into the ice-cold ocean. “I’m doing the plunge for my best friend’s son – I’ve been doing this since 2020. It has kind of become a tradition for me,” she said, shivering.
Every official participant is required to fund-raise at least $125 to join, but many go above and beyond the minimum.
Courtney Carr, here for her 14th plunge, traveled from Laurel Springs, Florida, to Wildwood just for the event. But she wasn’t alone. Carr is the captain of “Raymond’s Raiders,” a team of over a dozen plungers who collectively raised over $3,000.
Carr said that the team is named after her brother, Raymond Carr. He has an intellectual disability and finds great joy through the Special Olympics, through which he is an avid bowler.
“Raymond is the reason we started coming out,” Carr said. “It’s such a great tradition for us.”
She and her team tailgated in the convention center parking lot before the plunge. The lot, free for the day, was filled with dozens of other teams that dressed in costume, drank beer, made barbecue and eagerly awaited a dive into the cold ocean.
“We’ll see how far into the ocean I make it,” Carr said. “Believe it or not, I can’t swim! I usually get to my knees and fall.”
A Philadelphia-based team, the Waldos, dressed in “Where’s Waldo?” red-and-white-striped attire. They raised $600.
One team, the Piggy Park Plungers, had an especially involved setup, with a giant taxidermy-style polar bear statue, barbecue burn barrels and dozens of participating members strolling around the parking lot. Brock Rambo, their captain, said that the group has raised over $300,000 in the 14 years it has participated. This year, they raised roughly $19,000.
This was Brock’s first year as captain. His father, Scott Rambo, said “this was the year to finally turn over the reins” to his son, who is 19 and who said that he has participated in the plunge since he was 5 years old.
The event was filled with families who have made the plunge a long-standing tradition. Kevin Davis, another member of the Piggy Park Plungers, has worked with the New Jersey Special Olympics since 1989. He worked part-time at the 1989 summer games in Millville and was so moved by the event that he has worked for the organization ever since.
“The New Jersey Special Olympics makes a huge difference in the lives of young adults – it helps them be involved with things they otherwise wouldn’t have the chance to do,” Davis said. “All of that is much more accessible now because of fundraising events like this. This is what it’s all about – it keeps the games going.” He was joined by many family members, including two of his sons and one of their fiancees.
Other teams brought the same level of intensity. Pigs in a Blanket, a team made up of Camden police officers and their families and friends, raised $41,131. The AlohaAvengers, all of whom dressed up in Viking garb, raised $31,126.
The serious money raised at plunges like Wildwood’s lets Special Olympics offer services for intellectually challenged New Jerseyans at no cost. The Wildwood event brought in roughly $300,000, but Jeremy Davis, the director of communications with the New Jersey Special Olympics, said that the Seaside Heights plunge raises over a million dollars each year. Last year’s Seaside Heights plunge had over 7,000 participants, compared to roughly 900 in Wildwood, and brought in $2.5 million.
All of the participants interviewed by the Herald said that they plunged because they believe strongly in the mission of Special Olympics New Jersey. Folks came out to support their family members, their friends and other loved ones who have intellectual disabilities – and to have a frigid, daring, exciting time doing it.
Did you plunge head-to-toe in Wildwood? Got questions? Contact the author, Collin Hall, at email@example.com or 609-886-8600, ext. 156.