North Hempstead Polar Plunge raises thousands to support Special Olympics

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Some 272 people took the plunge to raise money for Special Olympics New York on Saturday at the 15th Annual Town of North Hempstead Polar Plunge. (Photo courtesy of the Town of North Hempstead)

When waking up on a snowy Saturday morning, not many would consider it a beach day but that didn’t stop hundreds from plunging into the Long Island Sound to support Special Olympics New York.

More than 200 plungers raised $50,000 for the Special Olympics athletes for the 15th Annual Town of North Hempstead Polar Plunge at Port Washington’s North Hempstead Beach Park last weekend.

The funds raised will support about 125 athletes in their training and competitions throughout the sports season, according to Rebecca Strickland, Special Olympics New York’s associate director of development.

The organization has over 67,000 athletes who train for and compete in 22 Olympic-like events throughout the year.

Strickland said there are around 7,400 Special Olympics athletes on Long Island.

Some of the largest contributors were the Port Washington Chamber of Commerce team, who raised almost $11,000 for the event, and Great Neck’s Erin Lipinsky, who was the largest individual fund-raiser. He raised almost $12,000.

Lipinsky plunged for his fifth year in a row. Last year when a nor’easter canceled North Hempstead’s polar plunge, he said he instead plunged at Tobay Beach in Oyster Bay to keep his promise.

He said he got involved because he wanted to do his part to keep the Special Olympics program running. He previously played on the organization’s basketball team.

Strickland said that once Lipinsky got involved, “he just took off with it and wanted to be No. 1.”

Lipinsky said that Alert and Vigilant Fire Companies, both out of Great Neck, have been a major support for him while fund-raising.

Mike Green, chairman of the Alert Fire Company, said Lipinsky puts in a good two months’ worth of effort into his fund-raising.

He said Lipinsky visits stores on all the commercial streets in Manhasset, Port Washington and Great Neck to hand out fliers for the event and ask for donations.

Lipinsky also had businesses donate food that he sold to help boost donations.

Green said Vigilant Fire Company hosts a car wash in July or August each year and sends the proceeds to Lipinsky’s fund-raising efforts.

“We are very proud of Erin, he has really gone the extra mile,” Green said.

Mitch Schwartz, co-president of the Port Washington Chamber of Commerce, raised close to $4,500 individually, putting him as the second top contributor.

He has been plunging for nine years and said this year’s icy dip was not nearly as cold as other years. He said in his first year it was only about 6 degrees.

Last year when the event was canceled, he did the plunge the next weekend while he was on vacation in Florida.

“People weren’t as excited about that,” he said.

Stella Spanakos, co-founder of the Nicholas Center and the Spectrum Designs Foundation, also plunged with Port’s Chamber of Commerce team.

She said Spectrum Designs manufactures the clothing for all the polar plunges. This year they made the red sweatshirts that many attendees could be seen wearing to warm up after their plunge.

Strickland said she is always impressed by how the community of North Hempstead gets together for this event, from the fire departments to the police and the community as a whole.

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