There he stood, on a bitter cold January morning wearing only a bathing suit and a pair of Crocs, ready to take on the mighty Delaware River.
Flexing his arms and smiling for the cameras one last time, Dr. David Dunbar, associate biology professor, dashed into the icy river water with 75 other brave challengers.
“He’s insane,” Dr. Maureen Dunbar, his wife and moral support, said.
The Eastern Pennsylvania Special Olympics held the Polar Bear Plunge fundraiser on Saturday, Jan. 31, at Neshaminy Park, Bensalem, Pa. The event was the first held in Bucks County.
“When I was younger, I used to do a lot of crazy things,” Dunbar said. “But this was definitely worth it; it benefits a worthy cause.”
Dunbar was the only participant from Cabrini; however, two honors students volunteered to help run the event, junior Gina Mulranen and sophomore Allison Potter.
The money raised at the event, $14,308.75 so far, will go to other events that the organization had to cancel due to insufficient funds.
This includes the Eastern Pennsylvania Winter Olympic games, the event that the Cabrini honor students have helped coordinate in previous years.
“Because of the current status of the economy, the organization felt the event was too expensive to run this year,” Jeff Baxter, competition director of Special Olympics, said. “Our events are funded on donations, grants and business sponsorships, and people are decreasing what they usually donate.”
The winter games, originally planned to take place on Jan. 21 and 22, is an overnight training camp and qualifier for the statewide winter games, held in Johnstown, Pa. on Feb. 22 through 24.
It is also a chance for athletes not competing in Johnstown to enjoy a day on the slopes.
“The event covers 20 counties in Eastern Pa., and generally has 80 to 100 competitors ranging in age from eight years old and up, but it seems to be getting smaller every year,” Baxter said. “Housing close to 100 people overnight at a ski resort is expensive, not to mention the cost of lift tickets, transportation and meals. For now we are going to put the money we did raise towards other events so we do not falter at any other event.”
Baxter said the event is on hold for the year, and the organization hopes to have it again next February.
“This event is usually one last weekend where athletes could connect with athletes from other counties on the slopes and go down as many times as they want before the statewide games,” Baxter said. “If an athlete is at a novice level, but wants to attempt a bigger challenge, this is usually their chance.”
Baxter also admitted that he was fearful of losing touch with the Cabrini honors students whom he spoke highly of for their involvement in past years.
For that reason, Dunbar took the plunge.
“It hit big time the second week of classes when we were supposed to be there helping, that we weren’t part of it,” Dunbar said. “It really hit home when I realized we weren’t going. We see what it means to the athletes, and we look forward to it every year.”
When asked what he thought about while wading through the frigid river, Dunbar laughed and said he blocked everything else out.
“I had the same mentality as I do when I’m in the middle of my insane leg workout, or like when I’m playing sports, you have to block out pain and everything,” Dunbar said. “Plus, I’m crazy.”
Mulranen and Potter also braved the cold by volunteering to help sign in the participants prior to the plunge.
“Once I arrived, I thought to myself, ‘why did I wake up this early to freeze my fingers off,’ but when I saw a few athletes that were in attendance, thanking the volunteers for giving them the opportunity to participate in the special olympics every year, I really did not feel the cold anymore,” Mulranen said. “I really hope the money raised at the plunge will help get the event back next year, because the athletes really deserve it.”
Baxter noted that the honors students are very service- oriented, something that not many other college students can say for themselves.
“I really didn’t want to lose these Cabrini honors students; they are very valuable,” Baxter said. “They took it upon themselves to get involved even though their event got cancelled, and I think that is just awesome.”
Dunbar has been involved with the Special Olympics for over six years, and is planning on continuing to lend a hand anyway he can.
“It means so much to families and athletes, but the economy is just really effecting society and non-profit organizations in such a negative way,” Dunbar said. “Anything Cabrini College can do, I’m all for it.”
On the way back to campus, the radio reminded of the bone-chilling weather.
Wind chill, 11 degrees.