Polar Express

Nick Gazzillo has gone through a cold stretch or two during his many years playing baseball. None of them, however, could compare to what Muhlenberg’s senior outfielder experienced recently.

Polar Bear PlungeGazzillo and 11 of his Mule teammates took part in a polar bear plunge at Scott Park in Easton, braving the frigid waters of the Lehigh River on a chilly Saturday morning.

“We all just ran into the river,” Gazzillo recounted. “Most of us, like myself, ran out as soon as we dunked our heads in. Some brave – and stupid – guys swam all the way out to the safety boat. There are no words to describe how cold it really is. It’s not as bad going in as going out. It is really more shocking than anything when you go in, but coming out your muscles tense up and it becomes hard to move. It’s overwhelming and exciting at the same time.”

Polar Bear Plunge movie

The reason Gazzillo and his teammates were there certainly helped to warm them up.

The event was held to benefit Special Olympics Pennsylvania, for which the Muhlenberg baseball squad raised more than $2,000. Each plunger was responsible for $50 in order to participate, so the Mules created a team web page to facilitate online donations. One player – freshman Jakob Cayne, managed to raise $1,650 himself, a huge boost to the thousands of athletes who take part in Special Olympics events around the commonwealth.

“We worked together and advertised it to our team as a way to help those who don’t get the same opportunity we do,” Gazzillo said. “We get to play 40 games a year, compete, have fans watch us and feel something special that every athlete feels. The guys really responded to this and we had a lot of people who wanted to help and jump in. Giving others who don’t have the same physical capabilities as us a chance to do the same feels great.”

Polar Bear PlungeGazzillo, a member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), took the plunge last year with two other baseball players. This year, with more time to plan, Gazzillo and his SAAC mates made the event bigger. In addition to the 12 players who dove into the icy waters, 10 of their Mule teammates came out in support, along with other members of the school’s athletic department.

Though Gazzillo won’t be around to organize the plunge a year from now, he is confident that participation will only continue to grow.

“We want to have as many people do it as we can,” Gazzillo said. “It’s such an important cause, and even though I won’t be there next year, I know my teammates are going to do a great job with it.”

With field hockey coach and SAAC advisor Megan Eddinger and teammate Matthew Lawsky, a fellow SAAC member, around to take the reins next year, the Mules’ future plungers are in good hands.

“I really can’t say enough about the effort that Coach Eddinger and Matt Lawsky put in. After doing it last year I – along with Nick Kennedy and Matt Clarke – know this is something we can do for years to come.”

For more on the Division III partnership with Special Olympics, please click here.

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