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Polar plunge

February 6th, 2013

It made no difference last Saturday that the air temperature was 20 degrees or that the lake water temperature at Berean Park in Highland was enough to make anyone run for the warmth of a crackling fire; a dedicated band of individuals, dressed in brightly colored costumes, went right ahead and plunged into the icy water.

James Anzalone, 2nd assistant fire chief with the Highland Hose Company, gives a victory cry as he makes his way to shore.

James Anzalone, 2nd assistant fire chief with the Highland Hose Company, gives a victory cry as he makes his way to shore.

They did so, one by one, in pairs and in groups, with the immediate goal of raising funds for a local organization that helps those who are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

According to the American Heritage Medical Dictionary, Alzheimer’s disease is “identified with the development of abnormal tissues and protein deposits in the cerebral cortex of the brain, resulting in confusion, disorientation, memory loss, speech disorder and a progressive loss of mental clarity.” The cerebral cortex is a thin layer of gray matter that makes up the outer portion of the cerebrum, the largest portion of the human brain consisting of two hemispheres and is responsible for conscious and voluntary processes.

Karen Skelton, administrator of the Dutchess and Ulster regional office for the Alzheimer’s Association of the Hudson Valley, Rockland, Westchester N.Y. Chapter, was heartened by the large turnout and enthusiasm for this event. She, herself, took a turn jumping into the chilly waters.

“People have embraced the theme of it; they are dressing up in costumes, setting up their tents and having their families coming from all over,” said Skelton. “It was a little colder than I would have liked but we had beautiful skies; it was nice.”

Skelton said for the past two years they held their fundraiser in Lagrange but moved to it to Highland for the first time this year.

“We really like the site. It has the pavilion overlooking the lake and all of the components we were looking for,” she said.

Skelton estimated that 500 people attended the event, along with 120 who actually made the frigid dive. She said they raised $8,000 their first year, $40,000 the following year “and we’re hoping to raise $60,000 this year. Right now, we’re at about $50,000.” Skelton said the money goes for research and to support individuals and families in need.

Elaine Sproat, president and CEO of the regional Alzheimer’s chapter, said they serve seven counties. Throughout the year they run a 24/7 help line that is “answered by a live person, 365 days a year and [provide] free care consultations at the office or in their homes.” She said they also offer safety services, host educational and activities programs and run support groups for caregivers and for those afflicted with this disease.

“It’s wonderful to see so many people out having a good time and raising money for a good cause,” she said.

Sproat said they will host five walking fundraising events this year between Sept. 21 and Oct. 20. A combined Dutchess/Ulster walk is scheduled for Sept. 22, starting at 10 a.m. on the Walkway Over the Hudson.

Sproat said they can be found at www.alz.org/hudsonvalley.

James Anzalone, 2nd assistant chief with the Highland Hose Company said the department helped to cut the ice hole and widened the path back to shore for the freezing participants.

“They didn’t nearly have enough cuts so we volunteered to go down and get our own chainsaw and they finished cutting the hole.”

On a personal note, Anzalone said he participated because “my aunt has Alzheimer’s and I think it’s a great thing to donate to.”

Commenting on his own plunge, Anzalone said he would “absolutely” do it again.

“My heart’s a little slow right now but I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” he said with a laugh.

Theresa Keegan presented Anzalone and his crew with a case of Hurricane Kitty Keegan Ale as a way to say thank you – “I’m sure you guys will put it to good use” – and in memory of her mother Kitty Keegan who passed away a year ago from the disease. She said of her own dive “I’m plunging for Kitty” and hopes fundraising events like this will bring needed money and attention that will one day find a cure for this crippling disease.

“When your family deals with Alzheimer’s you feel you want to do something so someone else doesn’t have to go through that again,” she said.


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