Dauntless dippers: Raising money for Special Olympics is a chilling experience

Robert Layman / Photo The Hippythermia team emerges from Lake Paran in North Bennington during the 2016 Penguin Plunge, a fundraiser for the Special Olympics.

Robert Layman / Photo
The Hippythermia team emerges from Lake Paran in North Bennington during the 2016 Penguin Plunge, a fundraiser for the Special Olympics.

By Lola Duffort
Correspondent

Standing on the North Bennington lake’s edge as a gentle, slushy rain fell Saturday morning, spectators at the 2016 Penguin Plunge said they came out to be part of the community and support a good cause — Special Olympics Vermont.

But for Margo Cardner and Julius Rosenwald of Pownal, watching was as far as they’d take it.

“The only way I would ever plunge is if a pack of hungry wolves was chasing me and it was the only, only option of escape. And then I’d think about it,” Rosenwald said, laughing.

Meanwhile, a group of players from the Bennington Rugby Club stood in a circle, giving each other a pep talk.

Matthew Bentley, a longtime plunger, said the experience was “exhilarating.”

“I mean, you don’t ever feel more alive as when you’re getting out,” he said. “You feel dead when you’re getting in.”

Josh Bull, his teammate — also a repeat penguin — likened the moments before plunging to “the few minutes before kickoff.”

But another athlete, first-time plunger Eric Bushee, conceded being “a little nervous.”

“But at least I know they have that nice warming tent,” he said.

Bentley said he was glad for the above-freezing temperatures this year. After all, he’d done the plunge in temperatures so cold that the water felt warm, he said.

“But it’s a little sad that the ice isn’t so thick that people can stand on it,” he said.

Standing outside the warming tent post-plunge, Lorena Onorato, a Girl Scout with a Pownal troop, said it wasn’t as bad as she expected.

But weighed down with wet clothes, she said, “the hardest part was getting out.”

Still damp, Onorato would only commit to “probably” doing it again next year.

Penguins and onlookers alike warmed up after the plunge with hot chocolate courtesy of Kevin’s, a North Bennington tavern, or migrated over to St. John’s Catholic Church, where the Norshaft Lions Club’s chili festival has been serving as the event’s unofficial after-party for years.

North Bennington Fire Chief Ed Myers, whose cold water rescue team — donning bright orange Neoprene wetsuits — helped plungers wade in and out of the water, reported no cases of hypothermia after the event.

“Nope. Right in, right out,” he said of the plungers’ approach.