Penguin Plunge raises $600,000 over weekendBy GRETYL MACALASTER
Union Leader Correspondent
February 02. 2014 9:23PM
HAMPTON BEACH — Of the more than 600 participants in Sunday's 15th annual Penguin Plunge to benefit Special Olympics New Hampshire, Olympian Jason Kimball of Manchester might have been the most grateful.
As recently as last week, Kimball was not sure he would be able to participate in his fifth plunge because he was having difficulty raising the $350 minimum.
But once word got out about his challenge, donations started coming in. On Sunday, Kimball got his chance to jump into the frigid waters of the Atlantic. At the event's after-party in the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom, Kimball said he was grateful to all of the people who came forward to help him, and was honored to participate.
"It brings a smile to my face," Kimball said.
Kimball is a Special Olympian and participates in basketball, golf, bowling and track and field events.
Kimball's basketball coach, John Connors, said he and other coaches were not aware of Kimball's challenge raising money this year until they read about in the Union Leader. They're glad people pitched in to help Kimball.
"I think it is awesome that there are a large number of people out there that care about Special Olympics," Connors said.
More than $600,000 was raised over the weekend for Special Olympics New Hampshire and individual Special Olympics teams in communities throughout the state through both Sunday's Penguin Plunge and Saturday's 6th annual High School Plunge, which by itself raised more than $142,000.
Portsmouth Mayor Robert Lister was one of about a dozen participants recognized by SONH this year for participating in all 15 Penguin Plunge events.
Lister got involved with Special Olympics 38 years ago when he served as a teacher in the Portsmouth School District.
"I brought Special Olympics into my classroom and have been with Special Olympics ever since," Lister said.
He said when the group first decided to try the Penguin Plunge fundraiser, about 38 people took the plunge. They got in and got out of the water before police came to tell them to do so.
Now, lifeguards and safety officials volunteer their time to ensure the safety of hundreds of participants, no matter the weather.
This year, the air temperature exceeded water temperature by about 10 degrees — 47 degrees compared to 38 degrees.
Lister said the event was just as exciting the 15th time as it was the first.
The Frozen Sections team of Keene raised about $29,000 and had about 34 plungers in Sunday's event.
Downey Page of Keene has been with the team for seven years.
"It's an incredible, incredible organization, great charity, great cause, great kids. We have a bunch of Olympians on our team and they're awesome," Page said.
"Flock leader" Dan Rath has been participating for 13 years after his wife saw a commercial for the event and realized what a perfect match it was for him.
"My whole life whenever I am near the ocean, I go in," Rath said. "And this is a really positive day for everybody."
The Penguin Plunge is the single largest fundraiser for SONH and has brought in more than $5.6 million in 15 years.
SONH was founded in 1970 with the first state summer games at Phillips Exeter Academy. The organization now provides year-round training and competition in 14 sports to more than 5,608 participants with intellectual and developmental disabilities across the state.