Most Delawareans will spend the afternoon of Sunday, Feb. 1, stocking up on chips, nacho dip and beer, ready to slide into the recliner just before kickoff. But thousands will head to Rehoboth Beach for a refreshing dip in the 36-degree Atlantic at the 18th annual Polar Bear Plunge to benefit Special Olympics Delaware.


    Most Delawareans will spend the afternoon of Sunday, Feb. 1, stocking up on chips, nacho dip and beer, ready to slide into the recliner just before kickoff.

    But thousands will head to Rehoboth Beach for a refreshing dip in the 36-degree Atlantic.

    The 18th annual Polar Bear Plunge to benefit Special Olympics Delaware will pack the beach and boardwalk with enthusiastic spectators and bathers, trying to top last year’s fundraising total of more than $500,000.

    Among the chilly swimmers will be Dover resident Pam Johnson, plunging with the group for the 15th time.

    In all her years of plunging, Johnson, a special education counselor at Dover High School, said she’s seen all kinds of weather conditions.

    “I’ve plunged when it was so hot it was warmer than a summer day, and I’ve plunged when it was so deathly cold that they only allowed you to go up to your knees,” she said.

    Sunday’s forecast calls for sunny skies and a downright balmy high of 46 degrees, but when the group plunged at Cape Henlopen State Park in 1995, the air temperature was a frigid zero degrees, and wind chills dipped to 25 below.

    Johnson said the key to surviving a plunge is a careful choice of clothing.

    “Dress in layers so you start getting acclimatized and start taking your layers off, because you have to wear a bathing suit, you can’t wear a wetsuit,” she said. “And you keep your feet dry and on a towel, then they blow the whistle and you run in.”

    A rush of adrenaline usually wards off the cold until after the dip, but Johnson said it’s not the thrill she’s after. For her, it’s all about the cause.

    “I’ve been involved with Special Olympics since probably the age of 15, being a volunteer, being a coach, being a program director. I’m not active in Special Olympics like I used to be but by doing this I stay involved,” she said.

    Even though Johnson does make sure to dunk completely under at least once, she’s not as hard-core as some of her fellow polar bears.

    “There are some crazy fools who stay in there and swim around,” she said. “I just do it because it’s something fun and it’s for a really good cause, and I truly believe in Special Olympics.”

    In years past, Johnson has taken the plunge with her sons Scott and Erik, and this year Scott is bringing along some of his fraternity brothers from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

    Also joining the plungers this year is Delaware’s new governor Jack Markell.

    For more information about the plunge, visit www.plungede.org.

    To sponsor Johnson with a donation, visit www.firstgiving.com/pamjohnson2.

    Email Doug Denison at doug.denison@doverpost.com