When Cranston resident Robin Schutt first heard of the Penguin Plunge held every New Year’s Day, she was only a child. Now in its 37th year, the Penguin Plunge, which raises funds for Special Olympics Rhode Island, is just around the corner.
Schutt has already been preparing for this year’s event by “testing the waters” as often as she can, though a chill is in the air and water temperatures at Roger Wheeler State Beach, the location of the Penguin Plunge, have dropped significantly since summer.
This year, Schutt has become Excelsior, along with her fellow Penguin Excelsior Mike Horan, and will lead the plunge. The title of Excelsior is given to the top fundraisers at the event. Schutt and Horan will wear the coveted Red Bow Tie, get a white terrycloth robe and lead the crowd into the water. According to Schutt, last year there were close to 1,000 people plunging into the cold water at the beach in Narragansett.
Schutt and Horan are determined not only to raise the bar for their fundraising efforts, but to elevate the total donations for the event. Their goal is to reach $100,000. Last year, the effort raised about 60,000.
“All of the proceeds stay here in Rhode Island for Special Olympics RI and help to offset major costs for things like the summer games. Special Olympics RI actually has to pay URI significant funds to use the facility, and the plunge helps to offset that,” said Schutt.
Fundraising has already begun for this year’s Penguin Plunge as Schutt reaches out to family, friends, businesses and the community.
“For years I said that someday I was going to join a plunge,” she said. “It was on my list of things to do before I die. There are several that go on, but I always remembered the Penguin Plunge from when I was young and I began researching that and found out that Special Olympics of RI was the beneficiary of the fundraising and, from just what I knew about their mission, figured this was something that I could ask for donations for.”
It was late in December of 2009 that Schutt first set up her donation page for the Jan. 1, 2010 event. Before she knew it, she had raised close to $2,000.
“People were extraordinarily generous,” she said. “I always thought that the concept of jumping into the ocean on New Year’s Day was exciting.”
According to Dennis DeJesus, CEO of Special Olympics RI, Schutt was an obvious choice for the role of Excelsior.
"Robin is a born leader who truly embraces the mission and vision of Special Olympics. She is a strong advocate for those with intellectual disabilities and her leadership in this event is greatly appreciated by the Special Olympics Rhode Island community," he said.
It was in 2010, after her fist Penguin Plunge, when Schutt volunteered during the RI Special Olympics games.
“It gave me a great opportunity to see where the money that I was asking people for was going,” said Schutt. “It was one of the most emotional days I have ever had. The will and determination of these people who struggle to overcome huge obstacles was beyond inspirational.”
Because of pending surgery in early January of 2011, Schutt had to skip that year, but returned to the Penguin Plunge again in 2012. She was able to raise $3,000 for Special Olympics and the donations just poured in, including a substantial donation from a Cranston Police officer who was serving in Afghanistan.
“Last year, I received donations from the Cranston Police and Fire unions, colleagues at NEIT [New England Institute of Technology, where Schutt is employed as chair of the Humanities and Social Science Department], the mayor, former co-workers in Cranston, friends, family, my greyhound friends, horse friends, etcetera,” she said.
Schutt cares for her own horse, named Charlie, and several Greyhounds along with her husband Gerritt. She was formerly the director of administration for Mayor Allan Fung.
"Robin came to us a few years back and told us that participating in the Penguin Plunge was on her bucket list. She raised in excess of $3,000 last year and she was so passionate and full of energy,” DeJesus said. “In preparation for the 2013 plunge, when we discussed the role of the Excelsiors, Robin's name was at the top of the list.”
Schutt stated that in the end, while she started doing the Penguin Plunge as a fun, personal challenge, it now has become a passion.
“While those few minutes leading up, standing on the beach in a bathing suit, are pretty chilly, and the water is a bit daunting, it pales in comparison to the struggles that Special Olympians live with and persevere through on a daily basis,” said Schutt.
This year’s Penguin Plunge to benefit Special Olympics will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 1, with registration beginning at 9 a.m. and the Penguin Plunge to be held at noon. This year, a $50 donation to RI Special Olympics is required to take part in the event.
To donate directly to Robin Schutt of Cranston and help her to obtain her fundraising goal this year, visit www.firstgiving.com/sori and type in her name. Schutt added that people may email her directly to receive the link to donate at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on the Special Olympics RI Penguin Plunge, call 349-4900. It is not too late to join in with Schutt, Horan and hundreds of people to take the plunge this year.
"Her enthusiasm is contagious and we are confident that this year's Penguin Plunge will be the most successful in recent memory,” said DeJesus.