“Plunging” in to help

By Megan Bradshaw on January 24, 2018

TU’s relationship with Special Olympics spans summer and winter

From left: Bill Murphy, Tom Judd, Jessica Laatsch, Alex Wyatt (back) and Ryan Murphy in 2015.
From left: Bill Murphy, Tom Judd, Jessica Laatsch, Alex Wyatt (back) and Ryan Murphy in 2015.

Towson University’s relationship with Special Olympics Maryland (SOMD) spans four decades, with over 1,000 athletes competing and over 100 TU volunteers participating in the annual at the Summer Games on campus.

Related: Special Olympics takes the spotlight with help from the campus community

Related: 1,400 athletes, countless inspiration

But members of the TU community also come together in the winter to support SOMD athletes.

Each year the organization holds its Polar Bear Plunge, an event where over 10,000 courageous volunteers plunge into the below-freezing Chesapeake Bay to raise money to support the training of over 7,500 Special Olympians. 

Two of those volunteers are TU senior business administration major Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Coordinator of Programming for Student Activities, Tom Judd—an alumnus and a 20-year TU employee.

Ryan Fitzpatrick and fraternity at Polar Bear Plunge
TU senior Ryan Fitzpatrick (pictured third from left, behind the "A") has been plunging since he was a senior in high school.

Fitzpatrick has been committed to volunteering since middle school and will be plunging at this year's event, which is being held from Jan. 25–27.

“From soup kitchens to blood drives, I have tried to volunteer as much as I can," Fitzpatrick said. "I feel that it makes me a better person and that motivates me to continue to do good. I plan to continue to help in whatever way I see necessary.”

Related: Springfield’s Ryan Fitzpatrick to take the Polar Bear Plunge for Special Olympics Maryland

He began plunging at the encouragement of an uncle who regularly volunteers for Special Olympics Maryland. It’s a family affair for the Fitzpatricks, with Ryan and younger sister Karly, two cousins and an aunt and uncle all plunging. Fitzpatrick’s parents come for moral support.

“I just love the entire environment during the entire event,” Fitzpatrick expressed. “Not just our team but everyone participating is just so friendly and root for all whom take on the frigid waters.

“Knowing I am helping kids fulfill their dreams of playing sports in a large organization such as the Special Olympics is the best feeling," he added. "As a passionate athlete myself, I understand the love for sports and thank God every day I was given the chance to play.”

Judd’s family connection to those with special needs also led him to start plunging. His mother worked for most of her career at a special education school.

“I think it’s important to give back to those in need and to help your community whenever you are able,” Judd said. “Having a mother who spent her career helping those in special needs programs, I understand not only the impact it has but the internal reward you get in helping others.

"Not everyone is lucky enough to be able-bodied or have the opportunity for higher education or a full-time job," he added. "I have been lucky enough to obtain all of those things, and I feel like it’s my responsibility to help those out who don’t have that opportunity.”

Judd began plunging in 2011 when Events and Conference Services’ Beth Walsh organized a department-wide campaign. He participated for four straight years before organizing the on-campus plunge TU hosted in 2016. 

Judd agrees with Fitzpatrick that the atmosphere around the event is one of the most rewarding parts.

“There is a giant rush of excitement right before you plunge. The anticipation of the cold water, mixed with everyone lined up on the beach,” Judd said. “We always made sure we were the last ones out of the water and high-fived all the state troopers in the water for safety reasons, to thank them for all their help. 

“After the plunge, there is a warm-up tent where you get to meet some of the athletes and seeing how excited they are and how grateful they are. It is always an amazing experience.”

Polar Bear Plunge 2018

Help Ryan Fitzpatrick meet his goal

For the fifth straight year, TU senior is going to plunge into the freezing cold Chesapeake Bay to support the dreams of Special Olympians in Maryland. Help him meet his fundraising goal. 

Donate to Ryan Fitzpatrick’s Polar Bear Plunge team