Taking The Plunge For A Good Cause
By: Laura M. Reckford
As a cold wind blew and temperatures hovered around freezing, neighbors in bathrobes hugged and wished each other a happy new year, while others quickly stripped to skimpy bathing suits to get ready for the New Year’s Day Swim at Millway Beach in Barnstable Village last Friday.
Organizers estimated that there were 500 people watching the plunge and 125 brave souls doing the dip, a record for the event.
Christopher Greim of West Barnstable, a firefighter/paramedic in his fifth year of participating in the plunge, served as DJ for the event. He was wearing a pirate outfit—”because I want to be a pirate when I grow up”— and was getting the crowd riled up just before the plunge. by yelling, “Make some noise!” The crowd answered back with cheers.
This year was the 12th year of the event for organizer Edward J. Robinson of Barnstable Village.
After dashing into the water with the others, still dripping wet and with a big smile on his face, he pronounced it the biggest turn-out ever.
Each year, the plunge is a fundraiser for a different cause. In the past, it has raised money for CHAMP Houses, Independence House, Hospice of Cape Cod among other local causes.
Mr. Robinson, who owns Barnstable Tree Service, and his wife, Debra L. Robinson, along with their daughter, Brooke, decided to make this year’s plunge a fundraiser for the Glenna Kohl Fund for Hope, which raises money for melanoma awareness and prevention. The fund’s namesake, a 2001 Barnstable High School graduate and Barnstable Recreation Department lifeguard, died of melanoma in November 2008.
This year, the cause had a personal meaning to Mr. Robinson. His daughter Brooke was one of Glenna Kohl’s best friends. They had rowed on the crew team together in high school. At the time of her death, Glenna had graduated from Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island, and was planning a career in health and nutrition education. She was 26 years old.
Mr. Robinson estimated that the plunge would raise $8,000 to $9,000 for the fund.
The money comes from plunge sponsorships, at $100 apiece; the sale of T-shirts during the event, which cost $20 apiece; and a raffle. The sponsorships had raised about $5,000 before the plunge even began, he said.
Though young and old participated in the swim, a requirement for taking the dip was to be young at heart. It seemed enthusiasm helped. So did alcohol. As one participant put it, “There’s no way I’m doing this sober.”
Two enthusiastic participants were Mr. Robinson’s stepsons, Nathan and Travis Blaser. Nathan, the lead singer for the band, 57 Heavy, entertained participants after the plunge at the Dolphin Restaurant in Barnstable Village.
Among those helping to sell T-shirts at the event was Stephen T. Vetorino, one of Mr. Robinson’s neighbors. “It is a good thing to do, to help causes. You start the new year off right,” Mr. Vetorino said.
In charge of the official countdown for the plunge was Henry Ramage, 15, who lives nearby in the village. Henry said what he likes best about the event is “the community coming together for a cause.” While Henry was not planning to jump in, his siblings Holden, 11, and Isabelle, 8, both took the plunge.
When it came time to jump in, Mr. Robinson estimated the air temperature was hovering around 34 degrees, the wind was about 10 to 15 miles per hour out of the north, and the water temperature in the upper 30s.
That was a marked improvement from last year when there was so much ice at the edge of the beach, according to Mr. Robinson, they had to walk out to the channel to take the dip. That day, the temperature was around 18 degrees and the wind about 25 miles per hour. “We had to break through the ice,” he said.
Compared to that, “This is a day at the beach,” Mr. Robinson said with a laugh.
Over the 12 years of the event, there has been snow, rain, just about every condition imaginable. “The first year, it was just cold. The water was calm, but we saw ice floes going by us in the water,” Mr. Robinson said.
Mr. Robinson said the whole crazy thing started on New Year’s Day a dozen years ago when he was sitting at the bar in the Dolphin Restaurant and talking to the bartender, Billy Fleming, who also worked as a fireman. “Do you want to go swimming?” I asked him,” Mr. Robinson remembered. It was 7 PM, but Mr. Fleming agreed to take the dip and so did a few others at the bar that night.
“That was how it started,” Mr. Robinson said. “And it went from there.” They did not raise money that first year, but the second year, they got the idea of making the event a fundraiser and they used money they raised to purchased an ice rescue sled for the fire department.
Mr. Robinson said he remembers standing at the beach the second year and it appeared that no one had shown up. Soon enough, though, he looked down Millway and the cars started coming. “And they kept coming and coming,” he recalled.
In addition to Mr. Fleming, who is now retired from the fire department, the event has traditionally drawn many local firefighters.
As for the feeling of taking the plunge, Mr. Robinson, who has gone into the water every year of the event, said, “It’s exciting when you hit the water. You feel great afterwards—once the chills stop and you stop shaking.”
At age 57, he said the plunge “gets harder as the years go by.” But planning the plunge has become such a big part of his life, he and his wife have taken to planning vacations around it, and he does not see stopping any time soon.
Mr. Robinson’s dog, Vito, a two-year-old Cairn, watched the swim from the sidelines. With their grey hair and moustaches, the two could win a dog/owner lookalike contest “We go to the same barber, “Mr. Robinson joked.
Among those who arrived in bathrobes for the event were Raymond E. and Verna R. LaFleur of Barnstable Village. This was the couple’s “fifth or sixth” year taking the plunge, Ms. LaFleur said.
Mr. LaFleur said he has to go ever year because his wife goes.
“He doesn’t want me showing him up,” Verna LaFleur said, sporting a colorful multi-floral bathing cap.
Mr. LaFleur was the one to point out the cruelest part of the effort. “It’s not bad going in. It’s coming out. The wind. It’s what gets you.”
Ms. LaFleur summed up the feeling of hitting that water: “Your heart stops,” she said.
“It’s all in your mind. You have to psych yourself up,” Mr. LaFleur countered.
Before the plunge, the speaker system played rock and roll classics, including a rousing rendition of Auld Lang Syne and paramedics got into position near the beach. Though they have not yet been needed, they are always on hand, Mr. Robinson said.
John P. Fleming of Centerville, a firefighter with the Barnstable Fire Department, said he was disappointed he had to work at the event rather than dunking in himself, as he has in past years.
“It’s fun. Something good to start the new year,” he said. Mr. Fleming’s enthusiasm for the event comes honestly. His uncle, Billy Fleming, was one of the original organizers.
There were several unique outfits among the participants. One man arrived at the beach smoking a large cigar and wearing a tuxedo tie and his stepmother’s striped bathrobe. Cooper Amster of Hyannis, said he has participated in the New Year’s Swim for the past four years, because, “you can go crazy and no one cares.”
He likes to dress for the event. Last year, he wore a coconut bra; the year before a tutu.
David A. Parrella of Osterville wore a New Year’s Eve pointed cap, Marti Gras beads an orange top and trunks. He said he participated in the first year of the swim and many since then.
Rodney Pierce of Yarmouthport said was making his second plunge of the day. He had taken a dip at Corporation Beach earlier that morning. “It feels good,” he said. “It’s an adrenaline rush and it kicks in all your endomorphins.” His wife, Cindy, offered another explanation for her husband’s participation. “He’s an old man and he’s got something to prove.”
One of the younger dunkers was Hannah Joyette, 10, of Barnstable Village. She attributed her participation to peer pressure. “A lot of my friends did it.” Afterwards, she said she felt “freezing” and doubted she would do it again.
John McAvoy of Barnstable Village, a native of Scotland and one of the bartenders at the Dolphin Restaurant, which hosted the swim after party, pronounced the water “a little nippy.” It was his fifth year participating. “It’s getting big,” he said of the crowd. But he said the dunk is “a good way to start the day after a few drinks the night before.”
The Glenna Kohl Fund for Hope
Glenna’s parents, Colleen C. and Robert C. Kohl of Marstons Mills, were visibly moved by the large attendance at the plunge and spent time greeting friends, including their daughter’s many friends and fellow lifeguards, who turned out for the event.
“This is fabulous,” Mr. Kohn said. “It’s such a great turnout. I’m just blown away.”
Of the money raised, he said, “It will be well spent.”
The Glenna Kohl Fund for Hope goes to four different purposes, Mr. Kohl explained. It goes toward clinical research trials for melanoma at Massachusetts General Hospital; melanoma awareness programs; a scholarship at Salve Regina for a student studying health and nutrition; and lifeguard sun protection structures and sun lotion dispensers at Dowses Beach, where Glenna worked for five summers. The structures will be presented to the town of Barnstable after a fundraising run planned at Dowses Beach this summer, Ms. Kohl said.
Glenna’s last summer serving as a lifeguard in 2005 was cut short when she found the lump that later turned out to be a sign of late-stage skin cancer. It turned out that a small mole on her leg that had been removed five years earlier had been cancerous.
Mr. Kohl said that given that early detection is one of the most important things with such a deadly disease as skin cancer, educating others about the dangers of the disease is a major focus of the fund.
The irony of Glenna’s death is that the young woman was “extrememly health conscious,” her father said. She exercized and ate well and had even decided to pursue a career in health education. But, her father said, she used to say her one indulgence was her fondness for tanning, particularly at indoor tanning salons. Because of that connection, Glenna’s parents are now involved in an effort to pass a bill at the statehouse to prohibit people younger than 18 from indoor tanning, “until they are old enough to make an informed decision about it,” as Mr. Kohl put it. He said there has been so much research that has come out, even within the last year, about the link between indoor tanning and melanoma.
Leave a Reply
In order to comment you need to be logged in.