MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
More than 300 Marines, sailors and civilians gathered early on a brisk winter morning at Onslow Beach to brave the chilly ocean for the 3rd Annual Polar Plunge to raise money for Special Olympic athletes of Onslow County, Jan. 10.
The chairwoman of the organization's Polar Plunge committee, Dora Gaskin, announced this year’s event raised more than $13,000, but money was still being collected and counted. Money will be used entirely to support Onslow County athletes by purchasing uniforms, equipment and to provide transportation, she said.
Even though the weather was unseasonably warm, the ocean was not, said Matthew Staszak, Religious Program Specialist 2nd Class, II Marine Expeditionary Force. This was Staszak’s third time participating in the fundraiser, and he said he was happy to hear the results of everyone’s donations.
“I’m glad to hear we raised more than $13,000. Being cold for a few hours pales in comparison when you think of those we are helping,” he said. “This is a cause I truly believe in and I’m glad to be a part of the II MEF team.”
II MEF’s commanding general, Lt. Gen. Dennis J. Hejlik, led the rowdy crowd into the ocean. Men, women, children, mermaids, and superheroes were among those who sprinted toward the choppy waters as lifeguards and onlookers cheered them on.
“I would like to thank all the teams and individuals who took time out of their weekend and money out of their pockets to participate in something which is really special,” Hejlik said. “I would also like to thank (Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune) for allowing us to use the beach and for all their support.”
Sandy Hejlik, wife of Lt. Gen. Hejlik and an event coordinator, helped raise additional donations by setting up a snack shack near the warming tent, which provided baked goods, candy and coffee.
“There was just a great outpouring of enthusiasm by the II MEF family,” she said. “Everyone was a good sport and I am really glad to be a part of it.”