Tom Delaney is hoping for two things this Saturday afternoon: no snow and low tide.
He is one of hundreds of Bucks County residents taking to Neshaminy State Park this weekend for the 9th Annual Eastern Polar Plunge, a quick jump in the freezing cold Delaware River to raise funds for the Special Olympics.
“We think it’s gonna be medium tide,” Delaney said. “You want a beach, so you want low tide.”
Delaney, a Levittown resident, is a special education teacher at Harry S. Truman High School and a coach for local Special Olympics sports, including swimming and track. He and a team of athletes and their supporters will be plunging together alongside dozens of others.
According to observers from years past, it’s an absolute spectacle.
“It’s become amazing,” said longtime Special Olympics coach and Fairless Hills resident Kathy Adkins. “Motorcycle clubs, other people you would never think, come.”
Some of them show up in themed costumes. One group of men plunged in wedding gowns last year, for example, and another dressed as dolphins and mermaids.
The spectators outnumber the plungers, but those brave enough to jump in the river hold a certain distinction among the onlookers — they aren’t chicken.
When you donate to the Special Olympics, but sit out the swim, you’re given a T-shirt that reads, “I was too chicken to plunge,” as a token of your support.
Delaney donned the shirt for two years before he gave in and joined last year.
For those who dive in, there’s a heated tent and Dunkin’ Donuts hot chocolate waiting for them as soon as they come back to dry land. For those who don’t plunge, there’s still a heated tent and Dunkin’ Donuts hot chocolate.
“Some people get up to their knees,” Adkins said. “The more brave people will plunge completely.”
The jury’s out on what Delaney will be doing this year, but regardless, he’ll be supporting programs he believes in.
According to Demika Poole, a representative of Special Olympics Pennsylvania, the funds raised to go to the organization’s general operations budget, which distributes funds to the various local organizations.
In Bucks, there are about 650 Special Olympics athletes across programs like aquatics, basketball, bocce, bowling, flag football, track and field, powerlifting, softball, soccer, volleyball and more. About 300 of the athletes live in Lower Bucks, said George Massimini of Special Olympics of Bucks County.
Local police departments get involved, too. Officers from Bensalem, Franconia, Upper Gwynedd and Philadelphia will be on hand along with EMS workers to keep plungers safe and help with logistics. Students from Bensalem High School will be volunteering as well.
Plungers have each committed to raise $50 to donate to the Special Olympics, and most raise more. Across the state, there are nine plunges, and donations total over $1 million, according to Poole.
The funds support the regular programming of Special Olympics of Bucks County and allow the agency to send athletes to the Pennsylvania Summer Games, held at Penn State each year, and the fall festival at Villanova University.
“It has proven to be a successful fundraising event,” Poole said. “It’s different. It’s crazy. It’s unique. It’s a bucket list opportunity.” ••
Individuals can sign up on the day of the event. Teams have to preregister. For information or to register, visit plungepa.org.