Friends took a plunge into the cold waters of the Chesapeake Bay on Saturday in honor of Desiree Holland, a Special Olympics athlete with Down syndrome and a long-time "super plunger."
For 19 years, she did the Polar Bear Plunge raising money for Maryland's Special Olympics at Sandy Point State Park. This year though, she was not able to take the cold dip due to her health, according to her family.
Her parents, Candy Holland, worked at the Special Olympics for two decades and Doug Holland, a former Hyattsville police chief, are advocates for those with Down syndrome.
Desiree Holland's interest in the Polar Bear Plunge began in the 2000s, her father said.
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“I did the very first Polar Bear Plunge, again Desi was down watching with her mom, and she told her mom on the way down, ‘I do this, I do this!’” Doug Holland said.
In the years following, she and her dad became a super plunger duo and raised over $200,000 for the Special Olympics Maryland. A super plunge is when you do 24 plunges in 24 hours.
“I think Desiree has definitely influenced and changed the way literally, thousands of people look at, see and understand persons with disabilities,” Doug Holland said.
Outside of the Polar Bear Plunge, Desiree Holland is an athlete who has competed in track and field, aquatics and cycling. She has won many medals, including a gold medal in New Jersey and a silver medal in Shanghai.
Doug Holland credits the Special Olympics organization with transforming their family's lives.
“It has changed our family. It has pretty much defined who we are,” Doug Holland said.
Even though she could not jump into the cold Chesapeake Bay herself on Saturday, Desiree Holland was at the Polar Bear Plunge in spirit. Her plunging partner, Rick Barton made sure of it and ran into the water with a massive cutout of her.
“She’s just incredible, she just, her and her family are just so great at it, I contributed, I helped, as part of the duo, but her family and Desi, what an inspiration,” Barton said.