Penguin Plunge readying for first dip at new home

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The Penguin Plunge is moving to a new home, but the concept hasn't changed: Hardy souls volunteering to take an outdoor bath in ice-cold water for a cause.

After 11 years in North Bennington, the Penguin Plunge, which raises funds for Special Olympics in Vermont, has relocated to Stratton Mountain, where it will coincide with the ski resort's annual Pond Skim on March 25. North Bennington held a plunge on Jan. 28 during the annual Winter Festival, but it was not associated with Special Olympics Vermont, marketing and partnerships director Liza Reed said.

This year's goals: recruit 150 participants and raise $25,000, according to Special Olympics Vermont board member Don Benasich of Dorset and special events manager Sasha Fisher of Burlington.

To meet that goal, Fisher and Benasich — who coaches Manchester-area Special Olympians in basketball, soccer and snowshoeing — are getting the word out now so participants have time to raise funds.

So far, about 25 people have signed up to participate, and several area schools and sponsors, including presenting sponsor Vermont Country Store, are expected to send teams of participants. It's a carnival-themed atmosphere, with many taking part in teams and wearing playful costumes.

Participants may also request their $30 entry fee be allocated directly to Special Olympics programs in Bennington and Manchester.

The "Cool Schools" initiative challenges K-12 school communities to raise funds, and Benasich said so far there's interest at Burr and Burton Academy, Manchester Elementary Middle School, Stratton Mountain School, Flood Brook Union School and Maple Street School.

The move to Stratton doesn't reflect any dissatisfaction with the North Bennington location, Benasich said. Planners are hoping that the Stratton location, and that holding it on the same day as the Pond Skim, will draw a larger crowd and increase awareness of how Special Olympics serves Vermonters with intellectual disabilities. They're hoping for a crowd of 3,000 people between the two events.

The Pond Skim is part of Stratton's annual "Marchdi Gras" festivities, in which as many as 200 skies and riders speed down the lower Suntanner trail in costumes, with a goal to skim across a man-made pond for cash prizes and bragging rights.

"We're thrilled about this new event at Stratton Mountain," said Lisa DeNatale, president and CEO of Special Olympics Vermont. "We have a lot of athletes and very strong programs in the southern part of the state and the Penguin Plunge is a really fun, if invigorating, way to celebrate and support their accomplishments."

For more information on how to participate in the Penguin Plunge, visit https://penguinplunge.org/.

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