February 04. 2018 11:46PM

Hundreds brave frigid ocean for 'Penguin Plunge'

Union Leader Correspondent

Andy Vaughn of Rochester, who works at the Monarch School of New England, joined more than 400 other plungers at Sunday's 19th annual Penguin Plunge at Hampton Beach. (Jason Schreiber/Union Leader Correspondent)

HAMPTON — Gov. Chris Sununu didn’t jump into the Atlantic Ocean shirtless like former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown did in 2014, but he still made a big splash at Sunday’s 19th annual Penguin Plunge by becoming the first New Hampshire governor to take the plunge.

Sununu joined more than 400 other brave plungers at the charity event to benefit Special Olympics New Hampshire.

Sununu, who dove into the 40-degree ocean water at Hampton Beach, said he’s plunged before but never as a governor.

“It’s freezing cold and it’s a great way to raise some awareness for a great program,” said a sopping wet Sununu as he scurried off the beach to find a warm place to dry off.

The two-day event raised more than $520,000 for Special Olympics New Hampshire, with each plunger raising an average of $951, according to Mary Conroy, the organization’s president.

Some 370 plungers from 24 high schools participated in the first plunge held Saturday. The event continued Sunday with a glow in the dark costume parade inside the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom followed by another 400-plus plungers who braved air temperatures in the upper 30s.

Conroy said the charity event may be extreme, but it’s been a success.

“What it tells us is that folks in New Hampshire value Special Olympics athletes and people with disabilities because the money raised here allows us to provide programming for the 3,400 athletes that train and compete around the state,” she said.

The air felt balmy to plunger Amy Edwards, who plunged for the 15th time Sunday and recalled the wind chill of minus 3 the first time she participated. Edwards and the rest of her team from Sprague Energy barely noticed the cold because they were so pumped up for the plunge.

“It’s the adrenaline,” said the 47-year-old Stratham woman.

This was also the 15th year for teammate Bill Woodward, 54, of Dover, and the 17th for teammate Ken Foye, 58, also of Dover.

Woodward said he always enjoys seeing the expressions on the faces of the Special Olympians.

“It’s not like other sporting events where it’s all about the competition and winning. These kids are just out having a great time and it’s really fun to see them enjoy it and be a part of it,” he said.

Cancer survivor Roth Townsend of Derry painted his entire body a Shrek-like green and plunged for the first time with Buckley’s Frozen Seamen, which represents the Derry Timberwolves Special Olympics team.

“I’m doing it for the athletes,” he said while chatting with 23-year-old Kristen Davidson, a Special Olympian from Epping who competes in the swimming program.

Davidson wasn’t able to plunge, but she helped raise money and cheered on the other participants, including her dad, Jim.

“It’s just fun. We raise the money knowing that it goes to the athletes. We don’t have to pay for any swim time. We don’t have to pay for any uniforms or anything like that because of the donations that we raise,” said Davidson’s mother, Cindy.

Plunger Andy Vaughan, 43, of Rochester, is an education technician who works with kids with autism and other special needs at the Monarch School of New England.

He raised nearly $500 — the most he’s raised on his own.

“The worst part is raising money. Going in the water is nothing,” he said.

Beth Secor, 54, of Amherst, plunged alone this year but plans to put a team together next year.

“I’m challenging all of my friends to join me on the team,” she said.