Many brave cold water to raise money for Special Olympics


PITTSFIELD -- Complain about the cold?

Not Mike Lupo and Matt Roman, who stripped off their protective winter wear to showcase swimming trunks and some splendid girth before basking in the glory of winter by jumping through a 10x10-foot ice cutout and into Onota Lake's freezing waters during the first Polar Plunge on Saturday morning.

Despite temperatures in the 20s and on a lake with ice a foot thick on all sides of the cutout, dozens of others joined the pair by bravely plunging into the water for a worthy cause.

Lupo and Roman, employees of the Hampden County Sheriff Department, were part on a team that raised about $1,200 for the Special Olympics by taking part in the fundraiser organized by members of the local Law Enforcement Torch Run.

An estimated 70 people participated, raising $6,000 with online registration, according to Pittsfield Police Investigator John Bassi, who helped coordinate the event. He hoped another $2,000 would be raised during the day.

"Any other day this would be cold," said Roman, who defiantly confronted the cold by leisurely climbing out of the water using a ladder. "You suffer through it so others can enjoy and compete [in the Special Olympics.]," he said.

"You jump in, it's cold, you jump out and you're nice and warm," said Lupo, with no hint of sarcasm.

Pittsfield firefighters in dry suits sat at the water's edge along with other public safety officials. Critical Care Paramedic John Johnson, of Action Ambulance Service Inc. said the medical condition hypothermia -- when the body's temperature drops below the temperature for normal metabolism and body function -- is 95 to 96 degrees.

That could happen in "minutes, seconds," in those freezing waters, Johnson said.

But for this good cause people were willing to wait in line in the cold for the privilege to become even colder.

Rachel Ferrin, 13, with a sense of irony, called her fundraising group Team Sunshine. Ferrin, of Pittsfield, along other family members, raised almost $800 through Facebook marketing and by asking teachers and others to donate.

For the effort, Rachel wearing swim shorts, a bathing suit and tank top, experienced the momentary "pleasure" of having her stomach do "flips" before jumping into the freezing water and then "literally [having her breath taken] away."

"I would do it again," Rachel said.

Rachel's 50-year-old grandmother, Pittsfield resident Kathleen Derby, nicknamed Sunshine, hence the team name, also participated.

"Oh yeah, oh yeah, it's freezing cold," Derby said.

Waiting to go in was almost as chilling for participants as the cold water itself.

"The last two minutes he might have had to talk me into it," said Beth Evon, who participated because of her husband, who works for the Hampden County Sheriff's Department.

Beth wouldn't jump into the water. Instead she slid in off the ice's edge before quickly climbing up the ladder and out of the water.

At the Polar Plunge, that counts.


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