BY CHERYL SLAVIN
On February 1 the Stony Point Seals will once again do what they have done for the past 16 Super Bowl Sundays. Participants from all over Rockland County and surrounding areas will strip down to their bathing gear and take the plunge into the icy waters of the Hudson River as a way to raise money for families struggling with the high medical bills of their children.
The beneficiaries of this year’s Polar Plunge will be Emily Licari, a 2-year-old diagnosed with Wolf-Hirschorn Syndrome, and Camille Untener, a North Rockland High School student who has undergone two corneal transplants.
Money is raised through sponsorships of the swimmers, as well as through direct donations, T-shirt sales, local business sponsors and a raffle.
“We are a reflection of our community, how powerful it can be when everyone comes together for a good cause,” says John Corcoran, one of the four original founders of the event. “We love what we’re doing, and we’ve received the full backing of everyone—first responders, elected officials, local store owners, and of course, all the participants and supporters who turn out every year.”
Corcoran, along with John Fox, Andy Huber and Chris Bryceland, took the first Super Bowl Sunday plunge in 1999 just for fun. The next year their wives suggested that if they were going to do something that crazy, they might as well do some good at the same time. Since then the event has grown to more than 300 swimmers and 1,000 spectators, raising around $38,000 in 2014. The organization is a 501c3 nonprofit; the event is underwritten by local business sponsors and all of the money raised goes to the beneficiaries.
Corcoran explained that the organizers usually find the beneficiaries through word of mouth recommendations from members of the community. They select a child stricken with a medical condition that has placed a heavy financial strain on the family. One of this year’s recipients is Emily Licari, who will turn two in March. She was diagnosed at birth with Wolf-Hirschorn Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that affects about 1 in 50,000 births.
“It’s hard to know what her future will hold,” says her mother, Kristen Faccioli-Licari. “Some of these children don’t even live past their first birthday.” As a result of her condition, Emily has numerous developmental delays, and is less able to fight off infection. Over the course of her short life she has been in and out the hospital many times. In addition to the ever present medical bills, the family lost income when Kristen cut back on working in order to care for her daughter. She truly appreciates the support of the Stony Point Seals for Emily and for her entire family.
Camille Untener, the other recipient, is a 14-year-old North Rockland high school student whose medical troubles started in 2013 during a trip to Florida. Camille contracted a fungal infection in her left eye that eventually became so bad she needed a corneal transplant. The first transplant did not take, and she recently underwent a second transplant in December 2014. She is currently taking steroids and antibiotics to prevent rejection, and will need to remain on costly anti-rejection medication for the rest of her life.
“We’re not the kind of people to ask for help,” says her mother, Rochelle, “but the religion director of our church knew John Fox, and suggested Camille as one of the beneficiaries.” She hopes that in time Camille can resume her place on the North Rockland JV cheerleading squad, and that her daughter will not have to miss any more school.
The Polar Plunge festivities will start at 10 a.m. at the Stony Point seawall located at E. Main and Hudson Streets in Grassy Point. There will be musical entertainment, refreshments and sponsor T-shirts for sale, and the opportunity to buy into the 50/50 raffle. The actual swim usually occurs around 1:30 p.m. This year, according to the website, there will be a warming tent available for participants to change their clothes after the plunge. The event will be safeguarded by the police, fire departments and ambulance corps.
“Everyone is welcome to come and participate, whether as a swimmer or as a spectator,” says Corcoran. “This is truly a feel-good event that shows what being a community is all about.”
More information about taking the plunge or donating to the cause, as well as a list of beneficiaries and information about parking and shuttle buses, can be found on the website at www.stonypointseals.com or on the Stony Point Seals facebook page.