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Polar Plunge

By Meghan Daniel for The Island Eye News


The January 1, 2020, Polar Plunge.

“It came without ribbons; it came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags,” says the narrator in Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” of a Christmas Day without all the usual frills and thrills.

 For many locals, without traditions like Dunleavy’s Polar Plunge, the typical resonance of ringing in the New Year had much less reverberation in 2021 than in years prior, echoing the sentiment of a quiet celebration expressed in the Seuss 1957 classic.

For what would have been 26 years running this year, Dunleavy’s Pub on Sullivan’s Island has hosted a New Year’s Day Polar Plunge benefiting Special Olympics South Carolina. Co-owner Jamie Maher described the annual event as drawing crowds in excess of 5,000 – many clad in wild and innovative costumes – to the Sullivan’s beach. After a belated countdown, energized by the excitement of a new year, many beach-goers would run, walk or dive into the wintry – for coastal South Carolina – waters. This was not the scene as the calendar rolled over from pandemic-riddled 2020 to 2021.

Although Maher said he saw some folks headed to the ocean on New Year’s Day to uphold what has become a beloved tradition, Dunleavy’s called off the official event more than a month ago.

“There was definitely disappointment,” Maher said of the public’s response to the cancellation.

However, despite the widely-recognized popularity of the event, Maher explained that the decision to cancel, which was announced in late November, was made in light of Gov. Henry McMaster’s executive orders and “the current conditions of what was going around regarding the pandemic.”

Maher also knew the likelihood they would be granted approval by both the town and state to host an event of this magnitude under the COVID-19 social gathering restrictions was slim to none.

Despite the disappointment, he said, “people were understanding.” Currently, Dunleavy’s does not plan to reschedule the event but instead will wait until Jan. 1, 2022, to resume the tradition.

Until then, Maher encouraged people to continue to support Special Olympics South Carolina by donating online. The relationship that Dunleavy’s has developed with SOSC, Maher explained, started in 2003, when Trista Kutcher, a local Special Olympian, reached out to the pub to see if they would be willing to help her raise money to travel to compete in the Special Olympics.

The fledgling event raised enough to send Kutcher and her family to Ireland. Seventeen years later, the 2020 Dunleavy’s Polar Plunge netted $32,000, strictly through donations. There is no participation fee for the Plunge.

Maher expressed hopes that circumstances will improve by next January so that the fun-filled fundraising tradition can safely return to the beaches of Sullivan’s Island.

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