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Penguin Plunge reimagined

Students, staff make a run for it in modified Special Olympics fundraiser

 OBSERVER STAFF REPORT

Typically each winter, Williston students and teachers gird for the chills of Lake Champlain, taking a dip in the icy water as part of the Penguin Plunge fundraiser for Special Olympics Vermont. 

This season, due to the pandemic, Special Olympics challenged supporters to get creative in “remote plunge” events. Students and staff from Williston Central School and Champlain Valley Union High School did just that, creating a “Penguin Run” in the WCS parking lot. 

Participants burst from the building in waves Saturday morning, many dressed for summer in the sub-freezing temperatures, and ran through a freezing mist from Williston Fire Department hoses and man-made snow from Cochran’s Ski Area snowmaking machines. 

“It must’ve been single digits with the wind chill and you would’ve thought it was a tropical vacation the way people were smiling, laughing and pumping each other up,” Williston firefighter Prescott Nadeau said.

CVU and WCS are among the top fundraisers each winter at the Penguin Plunge. Last year, CVU’s team raised nearly $35,000, and the Williston schools raised about $15,000 for Special Olympics.

When it was announced that the Penguin Plunge would not happen as normal, CVU teacher Peter Booth, a longtime leader of the school’s Plunge team, worked with Williston Lead Principal Greg Marino on an alternate plan. 

“Special Olympics Vermont is grateful for your commitment, enthusiasm and creativity in transforming the current circumstances into a Remote Plunge event,” the organization, which creates athletic experiences for people with intellectual disabilities, said in a statement earlier this winter. “Have fun with it, but above all, be safe.”

Booth thanked Cochran’s Ski Area and the fire departments in Williston and Hinesburg for helping organizers pull off the alternate event. 

“This year was tough without being able to just go to the waterfront and have kids jump in the water,” Booth said. “There were a ton of logistics … Thank you to all who helped organize, participate and support this great event.”

The event raised about $20,000 for Special Olympics.

Special Olympics Vermont plans to host a limited in-person Penguin Plunge at the Burlington waterfront on March 27. Only individuals who have raised $1,500 or more by March 19 will be invited. Waves of five people at a time will plunge into the water every 10-15 minutes in a physically distanced event.