Keep watch for Captain Plunger (on the right).Photo Credit : Sid Ceaser
Bill Jones of Bedford, New Hampshire, has a secret identity. Well, not so secret, really: Once each year, on Super Bowl Sunday, Jones dons a custom-made hat and cape and becomes Captain Plunger, a fund-raising superhero who leads the charge into the frigid waters of the Atlantic Ocean during the annual Penguin Plunge to support Special Olympics New Hampshire.
Have Fun with It Captain Plunger is known for his playful antics as he works the crowd and creates photo ops. The character was born almost accidentally, Jones says. “There are different themes for the Penguin Plunge each year, and I was trying to come up with an interesting costume. I attached a plunger to a helmet and I thought it looked appropriately ridiculous, so I went with it. People were making up all sorts of names for me, deciding what I was dressed as. So I added the name ‘Captain Plunger’ right on the costume. I’ve been having fun with it ever since.”
Follow Your Heart Jones first got involved with Special Olympics back in the 1980s, when the organization was a tenant at a property he managed. His connection deepened as he raised his now-adult twin daughters, both of whom have fragile X syndrome. “When I first heard that Vermont Special Olympics had been doing a fund-raising plunge, I thought it was the stupidest thing I had ever heard—then they told me how much money they made,” Jones says. “We held the first New Hampshire plunge in 1999. I’ve participated every year.” Most of the winter plunges that happen in New England support charities. A good cause can go a long way in steeling your nerves.
Be Ready for the “Before” There is a method to Captain Plunger’s madness. As he pumps up the crowd before the plunge, he’s providing an important distraction: “The last countdown before the plunge is the longest few minutes. The hardest part is the last 60 seconds. It’s mind over matter. There is really no way to prepare. It will take your breath away.”
Give In to Peer Pressure The more people you’re plunging with, the easier it gets. At the Penguin Plunge, there could be as many as 300 people charging into the water together. “The peer pressure helps keep you from talking yourself out of it,” Jones says with a laugh. “When everyone goes, you go.”
Expect the Unexpected “The weather changes everything,” says Jones. “The first year, I was lulled into a false sense of security. It was about 42 degrees. The second year it was sleeting, freezing rain. That was tough.” Pay attention to the weather and be prepared.
Go for Substance over Style The most important thing, according to Jones, is to wear an old pair of sneakers. “You won’t believe how cold the sand is. Wool socks are helpful too. And a T-shirt or something to cut the wind.” But it’s also important not to overdress. You don’t want to be hot or to wear clothing that will be overly heavy when it gets waterlogged.
Be Ready for the “After” You will be numb when you come out of the water, so have ready some loose-fitting clothes you can put on. Avoid clothes with a lot of snaps, zippers, and buttons. Bring easy-to-slip-on shoes to wear after the plunge, a plastic bag for your wet clothes, and a couple of towels. Retreat to someplace warm soon after coming out of the water. “When weather allows, they set up heated tents on the beach at Hampton,” Jones says. “Everyone is so excited—it’s quite a scene. You feel so great, so alive. And you know that you’ve done something special. It’s incredibly rewarding.”
For more information on Special Olympics New Hampshire and the Penguin Plunge, call 603-624-1250 or go to sonh.org.