Stony Point Polar Plunge Pulls the Community Together

BY CHERYL SLAVIN

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From left, Andy Huber, first timer Megan Marie, Frank Rizzi, John Corcoran
From left, Andy Huber, first timer Megan Marie, Frank Rizzi, John Corcoran

The 16th annual Stony Point Seals Polar Plunge came off without a hitch as over 100 men and women splashed into the icy waters of the Hudson River on Super Bowl Sunday. The swimmers, who were cheered on by over a thousand spectators, used the occasion to raise money for the benefit of two North Rockland children and their families facing high medical bills.

“We don’t have a shortage of good, high-spirited people willing to help out,” said Mike Ehlers, who emceed the event. “This is a testament to our community.”

The day started out with volunteers showing up in sub-freezing temperatures to set up the registration station, raffle and t-shirt sales tables, concessions and food stands, and the DJ booth on the bandstand supplied by the Town of Stony Point. Crews from the Stony Point and Theills Fire Departments checked the water for dangerous ice while EMTs and the Stony Point Ambulance Corps discussed safety strategies. The Stony Point Police Department also turned out to ensure the well-being of both the swimmers and the growing crowd.

Musical entertainment provided by DJ John O’Riordan, who along with Ehlers has been working the Plunge for the past nine years, kept the crowd pumped until the arrival of The Lift, a local band assembled by drummer Tom Ossa. To the delight of many, Ossa stripped off his shirt in the middle of the band’s first set and played bare chested in the freezing cold.

By 11:30 a.m., spectators gathered at the Stony Point seawall could hear the roar of motorcycle engines signaling the arrival of the Nam Knights motorcade and the special guests of honor, the Utener and Licari families. 14 year old Camille Untener, who is recovering from her second corneal transplant, and 2-year-old Emily Licari who is living with Wolf-Hirschhorn Syndrome, were this year’s beneficiaries of the fundraiser.

The event is one that brings together extended family and friends. Andy Huber, one of the original event organizers, came up from his home in Tampa to join in the festivities. “I’ve only missed the Plunge twice,” he stated proudly. This year his niece Sarah, a former beneficiary herself, sang the national anthem.

John Corcoran, another original Seal, delightedly introduced his niece Megan Marie, who was to take her first plunge. Corcoran’s wife, Ann Marie, along with Marjory Fox, held the fort at the raffle and sales table. As the Seals are the first to admit, it was their wives’ idea to turn a stunt just for fun into a charitable fundraiser.

Elected officials also attend. This year Stony Point Supervisor Geoff Finn was among the swimmers. Other attendees included Rockland County Executive Ed Day, Legislator Doug Jobson, and Stony Point Councilmen Jim Monaghan, Jim White and Karl Javanes.

By noon the swimmers were lined up at the seawall, their exposed skin and colorful costumes cutting a swath of color through the winter-bundled crowd. After cautioning them about the danger of sharp ice, Ehlers gave the signal and over a hundred cheering people rushed the waters as the spectators shouted on shore. Divers kept a sharp lookout as some swimmers raced right out again, while others lingered, splashed and hugged. Within minutes, however, only ripples remained to run up the deserted beach.

As swimmers changed in the heated tents donated by Frank Rizzi, the Lift struck up another live classic rock set and the crowd continued to mingle and munch on refreshments provided by local businesses like the Bees Nest Deli or organized by volunteer groups like “The Anderson Team.”

The generosity of the day extended beyond the actual Polar Plunge. Ehlers also used the opportunity to promote support for the proposed Stony Point Skate Park project. He is selling knit hats at $20.00 each to raise money and awareness of the cause. And North Rockland resident Arlene Kahn passed flyers out among the crowd to promote a fundraiser to benefit the Hi Tor Animal Shelter at Lynch’s Restaurant. The buffet gathering will be “in honor of the wonderful (North Rockland) community that pulled together to find” three dogs recently lost during the winter storms.

“You can’t find this kind of cooperation everywhere,” asserted Mike Lydon, another original organizer. “Everyone works together to make it happen, even the two towns, Stony Point and Haverstraw. This is what makes North Rockland so special.”

Donations towards the efforts of the Stony Point Seals and to benefit Camille and Emily can still be made by going to the website, www.stonypointseals.com.