SEASIDE HEIGHTS – They came from near and far. Shock troops. Vikings. There was a sighting of a creature in the Black Lagoon.

At the predetermined time, thousands of them ran headlong and plunged into the frigid Atlantic Ocean. Some squealed and retreated quickly, but others frolicked longer or even returned for a second and third polar dive.

“How was the water? (Pit) freezing,” laughed Jeremy Nagle of Jersey City, moments into his icy swim but now wrapped in a beach blanket. “Every year I try to do it with less and less clothes.”

His friends encouraged him to the tune of $525, which is the amount the veteran polar diver raised for this year’s Polar Bear Plunge at Seaside, the largest fundraising event of the year for Special Olympics New Jersey. The event is organized by the Law Enforcement Torch Run.

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This was the 31st edition of the event, which allows participants to raise funds individually or as a team. It also allows them to dress up in costumes if they wish, which many do.

“This event never ceases to amaze me. We always talk about it as a ‘sea of ​​humanity,'” Heather Anderson, president and CEO of Special Olympics New Jersey, told radio host “Big” Joe Henry on the 101.5 broadcast. FM. which was played over speakers on the other side of the beach.

At the time of the dive, Henderson said donations were approaching $2.5 million for the event. He also said they had reached 8,000 registrations. Both figures were records.

The Seaside Heights Polar Bear Plunge to benefit the Special Olympics is held with thousands of participants.  This year approximately $2.4 million was raised.  Seaside Heights, New Jersey Saturday, February 24, 2024

The Seaside Heights Polar Bear Plunge to benefit the Special Olympics is held with thousands of participants. This year approximately $2.4 million was raised. Seaside Heights, New Jersey Saturday, February 24, 2024

The money goes to support the nearly 20,000 Special Olympians in New Jersey. Athletes compete in 260 local competitions and four state competitions a year.

“I used to work with some of the kids who now compete in the Special Olympics,” said Sharif Nealy of Garfield, a former swim instructor at the Garfield Boys and Girls Club. Nealy, now on his fifth polar dive, raised $596.

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While the athletes were the biggest benefactors, the event drew thousands of people to the Seaside Heights boardwalk for one day. The boardwalk looked more like a Fourth of July crowd than a day in late February.

The sun even came out, as predicted, although the day started out rainy and gray with a temperature above 30 degrees. However, at the time of the dive the air temperature had reached 40 degrees, as had the water temperature, which was announced at 41 degrees.

The Seaside Heights Polar Bear Plunge to benefit the Special Olympics is held with thousands of participants.  This year approximately $2.4 million was raised.  Seaside Heights, New Jersey Saturday, February 24, 2024

The Seaside Heights Polar Bear Plunge to benefit the Special Olympics is held with thousands of participants. This year approximately $2.4 million was raised. Seaside Heights, New Jersey Saturday, February 24, 2024

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The water temperature was nothing the Liz Brown Jr Chilly Willies team couldn’t handle. In fact, they wouldn’t miss it for the world. Brown formed a team on one of her first releases, but four years ago she lost her battle with breast cancer.

“She ran this thing for years, like nobody’s business. She was just a great person, everyone loved her,” said Helen Stewart, whose son Kevin Stewart owns Jr’s Ocean Bar and Grill in Seaside Heights, where Brown worked.

The Seaside Heights Polar Bear Plunge to benefit the Special Olympics is held with thousands of participants.  This year approximately $2.4 million was raised.  Seaside Heights, New Jersey Saturday, February 24, 2024

The Seaside Heights Polar Bear Plunge to benefit the Special Olympics is held with thousands of participants. This year approximately $2.4 million was raised. Seaside Heights, New Jersey Saturday, February 24, 2024

When Jersey Shore native Dan Radel isn’t reporting the news, you can find him in a college classroom where he is a history professor. Contact him @danielradelapp; 732-643-4072; dradel@gannettnj.com.

This article originally appeared in Asbury Park Press: Seaside Heights polar drop for Special Olympics draws record crowd

By Sam