Nashua South students to take the plunge at Hampton Beach

NASHUA – There seems to be a fair amount of disagreement over the worst part of the Penguin Plunge.

Is it the anticipation of what’s to come? Is it the total body shock that comes with hitting the freezing waves head on? Or is it the wet, shivering run back to warmth?

Either way, students at Nashua High School South agree: It is all worth it to raise money for the New Hampshire Special Olympics.

The High School Plunge will be Feb. 3 at Hampton Beach, and the close to 30 participating students at Nashua South are getting ready, for the first time for some, and for the fourth for others.

Kevin Barrows, 17, is a “veteran plunger” going into his fourth year. It was a family tradition, he said, several of his older siblings did it before him and encouraged him to do the same when he got to high school.

His freshman year was the worst, he said, with record-low temperatures. The run back to the tent, he said, was by far the hardest part.

The Special Olympics sets a $175 fundraising minimum in order to participate. So far, Barrows said he has raised about $200, but is hoping to get that number up to $1,000 by the end of next week.

To first year plungers, he suggested they “wear as little as possible, and wear tight clothing.”

Ainsley Mazerolle, 15, is one of those first-timers, who joined because her friends said it was fun, but also because she wanted to help support a great cause.

Mazerolle is involved with the school’s Unified track team (Unified Sports partners athletes with intellectual disabilities with partners without), she coaches a Special

Olympics swim team in Merrimack with her mom, and she wants to be a special education teacher when she grows up. Helping the special needs community, she said, is very important to her.

She said that when she makes the plunge next weekend, she will go completely under the water because, “if not, what’s the point?”

Mazerolle is currently leading the pack with donations, as she “texted everyone I knew and posted on Facebook like four times,” raising more than $700.

Last year, Matt Burns, 18, “wimped out” and did not go all the way in. It was too much of a shock to the system. But this year, he promised, he will redeem himself and go all the way under.

So far, Burns has raised close to $400, and is feeling “pretty good” about the event.

He would like to work in the special needs community later on in life, and is excited for the experience.

Barrows, Mazerolle and Burns are just a few of the “great group of kids” that Michael McQuilkin, organizer and social studies head teacher, said has made the Penguin Plunge worth it for the past five years.

He started his career in special education and has coached Unified Sports, so he too is invested. “It is very cold though,” he admitted.

His advice to first-time plungers is to make sure you are prepared; a few years ago he forgot to bring an extra pair of socks and was cold all day, he said.

Another reason to plunge, or to donate to the cause, is that Unified Sports at Nashua South will get 30 percent of the proceeds.

That program, said Hank Basil, another organizer and someone who has worked with the Special Olympics before, is invaluable.

He shared that one parent of a Unified athlete told him that she never thought her daughter would be able to play a varsity sport or have any of the athletic opportunities that many other students have because of her disability. Thanks to Unified Sports, however, that could happen.

“That was one of the most rewarding experiences of my career,” Basil said.

Both Nashua South and Nashua High School North are trying to raise funds for the plunge, as this is a “Battle of the Bridges” competition.

So far, the South team has raised more than $8,000 and the North team has raised about $6,000.

Those interested in giving to the Nashua High School South plunge can donate at https://www.firstgiving.com/team/361459.

Those interested in giving to the Nashua High School North plunge can do so at https://www.firstgiving.com/team/361458.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” McQuilkin said, adding that either way it benefits both schools and a good cause.

Hannah LaClaire can be reached at 594-1243 or hlaclaire@nashuatelegraph.com.