On Sunday morning, January 22, nearly 100 people made their way into Sippican Harbor as part of Tabor Academy’s Polar Plunge event benefiting Special Olympics Massachusetts.
The event was the first of its kind at Tabor Academy, raising over $12,300 for the nonprofit organization. The funds from the Polar Plunge go directly towards programs that “help provide nearly 12,000 athletes with an opportunity to participate in programs that help them live a longer, happier, healthier life through sports programs,” according to the organization’s website.
Though the morning was unseasonably warm at just under 50 degrees Fahrenheit, the water proved to be colder at around 43 degrees. This did not seem to deter the “plungers,” with many screaming euphorically as they sprinted into the harbor.
Many of the participants left the water as quickly as they entered, running up onto the beach in search of their towels and the heaters stationed in the tent erected on the lawn above the beach. Others took their time in the water, lingering, seemingly unfazed by the bitter cold as they took in the moment.
Upon exiting the water, the energy on the beach was still high as people wrapped themselves in towels and got a bite to eat, courtesy of some local vendors.
“It wasn’t that bad,” said Tabor sophomore Jack Cederholm. “We’re feeling great!” chimed in fellow sophomore Gabby Barresi.
Tabor students made up the largest contingent of participants in the Polar Plunge, but they were not alone. The students were joined by members of the local community, a group from Sandwich High School and their Swim & Dive team, and a group of Tabor Academy faculty and administrators.
The Tabor administrators were the most visible, yet least recognizable at the event, dressed in costume for the plunge. Tabor’s Head of School John Quirk was particularly visible, dressed in a full-body Captain America costume. This was not the first time Quirk wore this costume into the water; in September 2015, Quirk took a jump off of one of Tabor’s docks to celebrate surpassing a fundraising goal for the school.
“It’s not very warm,” said Quirk jokingly.
The event was planned by the Tabor Academy Special Olympics Committee, a group of nine students overseen by faculty member Tim Cleary. The event took a considerable amount of planning and preparation, tasks taken on primarily by the students. From big tasks such as coordinating with Special Olympics Massachusetts and ordering the tent, to getting sponsors and T-shirts and food donations, the event took months of preparation and became a considerable group undertaking.
To spread the word, the committee used a variety of methods both at school and around the region.
“We did all-school announcements a couple of times, hung up posters and stuff like that … we spread the word with Facebook posts, and reached out to different towns like Fairhaven, Sandwich, and Mashpee; we tried to get as many people as possible,” said committee member Annalisa Souza, who also was the event’s top fundraiser with $1000 raised.
The participants had a variety of reasons as to why they jumped into Sippican Harbor on Sunday.
“It’s a really great cause, and it was a lot of fun,” said Tabor junior Piper Cole.
For Cederholm, this event was a continuation of a close connection he has had with the cause for much of his life.
“I’ve been working with kids with special needs since fifth grade and I love supporting the Special Olympics,” he said.
The Special Olympics programs at Tabor started gaining traction under the leadership of Cleary and Molly Bent, Tabor Class of 2016 and current member of UConn’s dominant women’s basketball team.
Early last school year, the committee of students was formed and work was done throughout the year to establish bylaws and build a foundation for the program.
This event was not the first held by Tabor Academy in association with Special Olympics Massachusetts, nor will it be the last. Last year, Tabor hosted a Valentine’s Day basketball tournament for the athletes and a Fitness Day; the latter brought the entire Tabor community together in April of 2016 to help facilitate the event.
Additionally, Tabor hosts weekly programs for the athletes throughout the winter.
This April, Tabor will again engage the entire community in hosting another day for the athletes on campus.
With the Polar Plunge “exceeding expectations,” awareness towards people with intellectual disabilities continues to grow both at Tabor and in the greater community. Tabor is expected to host another – hopefully bigger and more successful – Polar Plunge next year.
“Hopefully, it will be an annual thing,” said Souza.
By Jack Gordon