PEEKSKILL, N.Y. – Fourteen men and women, ranging in age from 22 to over 50, literally “took the plunge” on New Year’s Day, stripping down to bathing attire and dashing from the sands of Peekskill’s Riverfront Park into the near-freezing waters of the Hudson River.
Why? People had various reasons but the main goal was to raise money for the This Is Me Foundation, an organization working to raise awareness for victims of alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss.
Sisters Caitlin and Lauren Brady founded the group last year after Kayla Martell, Miss Delaware 2010, disclosed her own alopecia by removing her wig at the Miss America Pageant.
Both Caitlin, 22, and Lauren, 27, have alopecia. So do their two sisters, one 17, the other 30. “We’re more vocal about it,” said Caitlin. “We wanted to do something to inspire other people, just the way Kayla inspired us.”
“This Is Me is intended to give hope to any individual who’s facing adversity,” added Lauren. Last year the group awarded scholarships to two Peekskill High School seniors who have had to deal with adversity.
The New Year’s Day Polar Plunge was sponsored by Peekskill’s Quiet Man Public House, owned by Chuck McGreal. “This is our first annual plunge,” he said. “We’re always putting our heads together to get the community together.” McGreal’s brother, Joe, took the dip on Chuck’s behalf.
“I’m doing it in support of the girls and what they’ve done,” said Alisa Varella, 31. “Everyone knows I won’t go into a swimming pool unless the water is 90 degrees, but this wasn’t really that bad. I feel like I started the New Year on a good foot.”
Bikini-clad Shari Roufberg agreed that, “it wasn’t so bad. The anticipation was much worse than the experience.” Did she spend a lot of time choosing her outfit? “It’s the only swimsuit I own,” she said.
Roughly 100 people stood on the beach, cheering, stamping their feet, and sipping Dunkin' Donuts coffee to stay warm. Peekskill paramedics were on hand, too, just in case.
But everything went swimmingly. The goal was to raise $500. The bottom line came to around $1,600.