By Rob Glidden
The annual YMCA Polar Plunge pulled in $24,000 worth of donations, which were given by the community to sponsor the roughly 80 participants who jumped into the frigid waters of Sloper’s Pond.
In the eight years since it was first held in Southington, the event has grown into one of the town’s most popular fundraisers. Most of the plungers are grouped into various teams made up of YMCA employees, local politicians, staff of the Southington schools, policemen, and firefighters. This year, a team from Lake Compounce joined the roster.
“Every year we get a new team and my favorite part is the first-time plungers,” said Camp Sloper director Mark Pooler, who traditionally stays in the water for a full 75 seconds. “To see those looks on their faces is just priceless.”
Two of these newcomers were Kiah Devona and Maggie Reiss, who also work at Camp Sloper.
“It was awesome,” Devona said. “I’m shivering but I’ll do it again.”
Reiss added that “It’s a really good cause and its fun.”
Each swimmer needs a sponsor to participate, and the money goes towards the YMCA’s annual Strong Kids campaign, which provides scholarships to allow local children to attend Camp Sloper during the summer. As the plunge began, YMCA Executive Director John Myers said the goal was $18,000. The final amount exceeded that by $6,000.
Town Councilor Al Natelli is one of the very few plungers to jump into the water for eight years in a row, since the event began.
“These days, my biggest concern is what to wear,” he said.
Many of the plungers bring unique costumes and gimmicks into the water with them. One anonymous participant wore a Gumby costume for the jump into the lake while the Lake Compounce team had colorful clown wigs.
One of the oldest plungers was former fire captain Nelson DeAngelo, who turned 70 shortly before the day of the event. Even though he has retired, he said he enjoys gathering with colleagues for the plunge.
“I was in the Fire Department for over 40 years and it’s just one of those things we do,” DeAngelo said.