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January 23. 2014 8:27PM

Mark Hayward's City Matters: Readers come through for frustrated Penguin Plunger


 

Special Olympics athlete Jason Kimball displays some of the medals he has won over the years. (MARK HAYWARD / UNION LEADER)

It appears that Jason Kimball, the Special Olympian who couldn't raise enough money to participate in the Penguin Plunge, will get a run at the icy Atlantic after all.

Several readers contacted the New Hampshire Union Leader on Thursday after City Matters reported about Kimball getting shut out of the Penguin Plunge last year. A Special Olympics athlete and guest speaker for the organization, Kimball couldn't take the plunge after his efforts to raise the minimum $350 donation fell short.

A number of readers said they didn't want to see cold water thrown on Kimball's aspirations.

"I have been fortunate in my life and I would like to help Jason take his well-deserved plunge," wrote John Melanson in an email. A Manchester native, Melanson wrote an email from his warm office in Tupelo, Miss., where he works as an information specialist for Toyota North America.

He said he could overnight a check.

"I'm very happy," Kimball said by telephone. Kimball said he spoke to his track and field coach, who told him not to be surprised if offers came in. "I'm like — wow. The paper just came out."

Kimball had taken the plunge for four consecutive years, raising as much as $700 in one year. But last year, he raised only $150 and said he was closed out of the Plunge.

He didn't try to raise the money for this year's event, which takes place Feb. 2 at Hampton Beach. But given the pledges he received on Thursday, Kimball said he will participate.

Kimball, 41, has a third-grade reading level and a diagnosed mental illness. He receives disability and lives in public housing. He volunteers at the New Horizon soup kitchen and participates in Special Olympics basketball, golf, bowling and track and field.

By noon on Thursday, City Matters received five emails from people interested in sponsoring him.

John Antonellis wrote that he and his wife are blessed with healthy children and grandchildren.

"I always thought the ocean was open to everyone," Antonellis wrote. "This is our way of letting Jason and all other disabled individuals know that other people stand behind them to help in any way we can." Special Olympics New Hampshire, which puts on the event, has also heard from people interested in supporting Kimball, said Mary Conroy, president and chief-executive of the organization.

She said enough offers have come in that other Special Olympic athletes will be able to take the plunge. The organization maintains a strict no-exception policy to the minimum goal of $350, and that will continue.

But Conroy said it will beef up its training for local program coordinators on how to support Special Olympic athletes in their fund-raising.

In fact, one Special Olympic athlete is adamant about keeping the minimum intact.

Kerry Morency will take her seventh plunge next month. Morency said she starts fundraising on Nov. 1. She uses the Internet, washes cars and hits up people for donations outside Dunkin' Donuts.

"If everyone could just jump in for free, nobody would want to raise the money," she wrote in an email, adding: "At $350 what I get out of Special Olympics is well worth it. I follow the rules, like everyone else should."

Those who offered to help Kimball didn't address the key issue here — is it better to play by the rules all the time or sometimes bend a little. They just wanted to help out.

"I am also in a position to help out financially and give back a little," wrote Steven Maniglia, who offered to pay the $350. "I have thought about doing the Polar Plunge myself," he wrote, "but am admittedly, too chicken — I hate the cold!"


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