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Icy Plunge Warms Hearts

On a frigid Saturday morning with winds whipping and heavy rain pouring down, more than 400 people arrived at Tobay Beach in Massapequa to race into the bay to raise funds for the Special Olympics.

Diane Colonna, regional director of Special Olympics New York, Long Island division, was pleased with the turnout for this Tobay Beach first.

“We are excited to be at the Town of Oyster Bay. This is a really fun, exciting different way for people to show their support for our athletes,” she said. “The best way to describe this is when you go into the water and it kind of takes your breath away, that’s what happens to you when you watch Special Olympics; it takes your breath away. They are just an amazing group of people.”

The event raised $28,000; money that will be used to train the Special Olympic athletes. President and CEO Neal Johnson explained how the money is used.

“Many people don’t realize that we never charge our athletes or caregivers for any of the programs we provide for them, so fundraisers like this are important financially for us but also create awareness and make people want to get involved in supporting out athletes,” he said.

The event, which took four months of planning with the Town of Oyster Bay officials, was not only well organized but also took into account safety measures. Massapequa Fire Commissioner Justin McCaffrey was on hand with public safety officers on land and at sea, where two boats and several divers were stationed wearing immersion suits. Even the Marines showed up for the event.

Sgt. Thomas Heinson of the recruiting substation in Hicksville was there with 16 applicants getting ready for boot camp, including two women.

“We are all out here today to support the community and the cause and to raise some money,” said Heinson.

Nora Reade was there with her team from Splash Swimming in Farmingdale.  

“We have 20 people participating,” said Reade. “We are doing this because we have a swim program for special needs swimmers and it’s been going on for four years strong, so this means a lot to us and we just joined them last year and we have a swim meet tomorrow so we are very excited.”

The plungers, who came from all over Long Island, were divided into two sections; those that raised the most money had the privilege of racing into the water first. As the plungers first touched the frigid water, squeals and laughter filled the air as they raced back across the sand grabbing towels to stay warm.

Sophia Greco, a 10-year-old Massapequan, stood on the shoreline with teeth chattering after her plunge. She was greeted by a warm bear hug by her dad Michael.

“I thought it would be really fun and it is also helping the Special Olympics, she said. “It was cold! Very, very cold, but I’m glad I did it.”

Officials Supervisor John Venditto, Nassau County Legislator Michael Venditto and Massapequa’s Town Clerk James Altadonna, whose son was one of the divers, were on hand to witness the event.

Supervisor Venditto was very pleased with the turnout and had high praise for not only Special Olympics but the people of the Town of Oyster Bay.

“What makes this town so special is less about government but more about the  people who live here,” said Supervisor Venditto. “All of these volunteers who are out here in pouring rain and cold temperatures running into ice cold water to do the right thing by the rest of the community, and especially special Olympics as we are doing today.”

As the event was winding down and plungers sought warm clothing, a group of friends hung out under a tent eating tacos.

“I plunged because I wanted to do it for charity,” said John Yeager-Whelan, a 12-year-old from Massapequa. “I’ve never done it before and it was really cold, but I would do it again.”