There were more people on Mattapoisett’s Town Beach on New Year’s Day morning than on a hot summer’s day in the middle of July. And whether the beachgoers were there to plunge into the 47-degree ocean water or there to support the swimmers and the event, everyone was in a party mood.
The fourth annual New Year’s Day Polar Plunge called “Freezin’ for a Reason” supports cancer victims and their families.
The impetus for this annual campaign was the Huggins’ own experience with the crushing financial burden that can come with a life-threatening illness. When Will Huggins became ill, they received financial assistance from the BAM Foundation, a local fundraising group that provides financial assistance to individuals and families dealing with cancer. The assistance that BAM gave to the Huggins’ helped keep them afloat until Will could get back on his feet, literally. Now they are giving back with support from the community and others both near and far.
The day before the big event, a tent was erected complete with a heater to warm the crowd. Will and a couple of his helpers delivered fuel to the beach for the big bonfire that would be blazing to warm up the party-goers before, during, and after the plunge. The prep team even cleaned the beach of seaweed.
The chilly morning to follow would find local eateries donating hot chocolate and coffee, cups of chowder, and one venue opened its doors for an after party from which a portion of the proceeds would be donated to the cause.
Everything was in full swing by 11:00 am.
The call for self-expression in the form of inventive beachwear was heeded with folks showing up in custom swimming suits. There was a group donning yellow cubes and singing, “We all live in a yellow submarine,” while snaking through the crowd. In real life they were Mat and Russell Luiz, Charles and Laura Buckley, Jean and Scott Pease, and Karen Barrows.
There was a unicorn, several Santas, some corals, and lots of bare skin shivering in the weak sunlight. There were also a rather surprising number of children who were there for more than the fun.
Nine-year-old Scott Falvey was in attendance with about 20 members of his extended family to jump in the water in memory of his Papa Fagan. The elder Fagan was a cancer victim, but on this day his joyful family was lovingly remembering him by helping others. The family team also included Maryellen Fagan, Mark Falvey, Kaitlyn Popson, and Scott Falvey, to name a few.
There were veterans and first-timers queuing up as the clock neared noontime.
Andy Pacheco of New Bedford was a “virgin” plunger, his wife Amanda a cancer survivor.
“I decided, ‘why not,’” she said with a sly smile while poking her husband.
Cheryl Makuch, Mattapoisett, was jumping in to show support for her friend who is battling cancer. Eight-year-old Hunter Horsey of Marion, a first-timer, was going in for his step-brother, while ten-year-old Caleb Miconi of Attleboro, also a first-timer, had been convinced by his mother to try it out.
Marlene East, Marion, her daughter Kate Houdelette, and granddaughters Liz, 9, and Caroline, 7, formed a three-generation team.
“I wanted to give them something fun to remember me by,” East laughingly declared.
Carol Lamarr, a veteran of the event said, “I do this to start the year out fresh … to cleanse my mind and body.”
Cathy, Karl, and Austin Spooner, another family team, called it a “crazy thing to do,” but one they looked forward to sharing.
Tom Waldron, Mattapoisett, and his twin 9-year-old sons, Tom and Liam, were going in for the second year in a row and hoped to make it an annual event for their family.
Chris Souza, Fairhaven, called himself a professional plunger, doing several winter swims in support of those dealing with cancer.
“It’s on my bucket list every year,” Cindy Bernier declared, while Maureen McQuillian said she was participating in support of everyone who has fought the fight, especially her mother and several friends.
After the splashing, laughing, and screaming had subsided, Michelle Huggins said, “I made 500 prayer ribbons, and I think at least 100 people actually went in the water.”
Prayer ribbons had been handed out to everyone entering the beach and a line was strung so that those wishing to could tie the ribbon to the line and send their prayers into the heavens.
Huggins said they wouldn’t know for about a week how much money had been raised as they waited for a tally from their GoFundMe website and from commercial establishments donating a portion of their proceeds. She said that last year they were able to help six families.
“My husband works with a local social worker who identifies families struggling with financial hardships associated with unforeseen costs from cancer treatments,” Huggins stated. With the help of the social worker, the money collected is distributed. This year, she hopes they can do even more. And if the turnout from the 2016 event is any measure, the Huggins’ dream of helping as many people as possible seems to be coming true.
By Marilou Newell
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