What little ice covered the lake has been cut away, pledges have been made, costumes prepared and all that stands between this year’s penguins and the 32 degree water at is the wait.
Sometimes waiting is the hardest part.
“The worst part is the waiting to get in,” said Tony Sposato, who heads the Farmington Valley Mudhogs team, including seven kids in grades three through eight. “Last year we were wandering around for a while before the plunge and that’s when the cold really sets in.”
Sposato’s been taking the plunge for almost 10 years. He initially got involved when friends approached him.
“’You’re crazy enough to do this so you should do it with us,’” said his friends, who still jump with the FAVARH, or ARC of the Farmington Valley, team.
But as people crowd onto the beach in bathing suits in chilling temperatures, something other than craziness is evident — the group is thrilled, dedicated, passionate about the cause. They’re freezin’ for a reason.
Mostly those jumping, called penguins, love the athletes of Special Olympics, which benefits from the event, or they love sports and believe in making sure the athletes have the opportunity to play.
T-shirts bearing the name of a special athlete, past or present, and giant grins are commonplace.
Team FAVARH, well known for its creatively themed costumes, will this year wear t-shirts in memory of athlete Maria Kelly, who passed away in June and was a longtime member of the FAVARH and of the Farmington Valley Unified Sports Program.
“A portion of this money goes to support our local program so we can buy uniforms and get equipment for some of the new people who come in,” said Patrick LeBouthillier, who has jumped for 11 years and is a special partner with FAVARH.
Though he says he’s not the bravest penguin on the beach, LeBouthillier will be there this morning. He’s also bringing the popcorn cart.
“I tell people there’s no bigger wimp than me. I’m shocked I can actually do it but once you get the adrenaline and the music’s playing, people are screaming, it makes it a little bit easier. But it’s cold — there’s no way around it,” he said.
The support of the community has continued through the recession, LeBouthillier said, with an outpouring from the local groups and volunteers who help with the event.
That includes , which each year hosts the event.
“It’s been a big money raiser for them and it looks like the weather’s going to be good this year,” said Scott Brown, Winding Trails director. “We try to collaborate with a number of groups. We have an excellent venue, we are a nonprofit ourselves and we like to help out other nonprofits, as well.”
Local groups from all over the valley including Avon High School, the Rocky Hill Police Department and Brad Drazen and the Peacock Penguins have signed up.
Registration is from 8 – 9:45 a.m., with a parade of plungers scheduled for around 9:50 a.m. Teams will take the plunge at 10 a.m. Friends and spectators are welcome.