It takes a hardy soul to run into the Atlantic when the air temperature is 20 degrees. But more than 250 people did so at the Lobster Dip at Old Orchard Beach on New Year’s Day.

“It was an awesome experience,” said Meghan Harriman of North Waterboro. “I’d do it again for the adrenaline rush. The camaraderie and the atmosphere – everyone is in good spirits.”

The event raised about $90,000 for Special Olympics of Maine, which provides year-round training for 3,400 athletes.

“We were concerned that because of the cold, people might not come,” said Lisa Bird, spokesperson for Special Olympics of Maine. “Considering how cold it was, we were really pleased with the turnout. And, despite the cold, people were laughing and having a good time.”

Each registered dipper raised a minimum of $100. Costumes aren’t a requirement but definitely add to the fun, with dippers wearing everything from lobster hats to mermaid getups to superhero underwear. And dipping isn’t about getting the toes wet; it’s about full submersion.

“It’s a good cause, and it’s a rush,” said Anna Hunnewell of New Gloucester. “It’s exhilarating. And I have crazy friends who made me do it.”

One of those crazy friends is Charlie Morin of Lewiston who has dipped 10 years, missing only the two years that he was overseas with the military. Considering that Morin always double-dips, that’s 20 dips.

Ten-year-old Cameron Beaudoin dipped for her third year. She made a presentation to her principal at C.K. Burns school in Saco and got permission to place a donation bucket in each classroom. Those buckets collected $676.89.

“It helps people with disabilities play in their own Olympics,” Beaudoin said. “We have some Special Olympics kids in my school, so I wanted to raise money for them and other kids.”

Beaudoin inspired her aunt, Janet Hodgdon of Gorham, to dip for the first time. Hodgdon went all in, literally – double dipping and raising $1,700.

Team Raymond – a group of dippers associated with the town’s middle school – raised more than $3,500. Over the past eight years, Team Raymond has raised about $30,000.

“We’re all educators who work with special needs kids,” said team captain John Keller, who is also a Special Olympics coach.

Many dippers said that the 42-degree water wasn’t the worst part. It was trudging through crusty snow and large, slow-moving crowds back to the Brunswick Hotel on a 20-degree day.

“My feet are killing me,” said Michael Madison of Portland. “The water wasn’t as bad as getting back out.”

Once they could get in the doors at the Brunswick, dippers were welcomed to changing rooms and a hot buffet. The bar was hopping with an eclectic crowd where having damp hair was a badge of honor.

“This is the first time I’ve tried to come to this, and I couldn’t believe how many people there are,” said Linda Cole of Old Orchard Beach, enjoying the spectacle. “We could barely find a parking space.”

“It’s a way to start the new year off in the right way,” said Jenny Gearing, who was part of the Sunset Motel team that brought in more than $400.

After years of trying, the Brunswick Hotel finally came in first place for fundraising, bringing in $12,400.

The top individual fundraiser not part of the Brunswick team was Kathleen Beecher of Portland, a third-time dipper. She raised $3,200 – and dipped in a mermaid outfit.

Special Olympics of Maine runs 64 events per year with no off-season on a $1.2 million budget. “A fundraiser like this is crucial to the success our programs,” Bird said.

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer based in Scarborough. She can be contacted at: [email protected]