While visiting the beach in Oyster Bay four years ago, Chris Todaro and his brother-in-law David Donnelly watched as polar bear plungers jumped into the water.
“We were here a couple of years ago, just flying kites, hanging out with my family,” Todaro said. “We looked at each other when it was 60 degrees out and we said, ‘Oh, we can do this.”
Todaro, 46, of Rockville Centre formed a team with Donnelly, 47, of Upper Brookville and friend Brian Markovich, 44, from New York City, and has participated in the polar plunge at that location every year since. The 11th annual UCPN Polar Plunge, which raises money for the United Cerebral Palsy Association of Nassau County, took place on Sunday, where Todaro and his team plunged with about 300 other participants.
And although Sunday’s air temperature was a nice break from the harsh cold of late, the water temperature was still an estimated 30 degrees at the time of the plunge.
Todaro said the best part was getting out of the water, “not because you’re getting warm, but because you did something good to help a lot of people.”
His team has raised more than $20,000 for UCPN.
As a whole, UCPN has raised at least half a million dollars since its inaugural plunge, according to Mary Brosky, development manager for the organization.
Frank Ozol of Oyster Bay said raising money for the organization is as important now as it’s ever been.
“We need to raise money because the state is cutting back on what they give to people with developmental disabilities,” he said, referring to UCPN’s current fiscal situation. “When tax monies are cut back, we have to raise money in other ways.”
Ozol, 64, is a polar bear plunge co-chairman, and has been volunteering with UCPN for the past 33 years. He became involved in the organization when his daughter Sara, now 33, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 11 months.
Sara was born three months premature and weighed two pounds. Ozol said the programs offered by the organization provide Sara with a social network, along with physical, occupational and speech therapy.
Sunday’s event marked the first polar plunge for Liam Drennan of Oyster Bay. He had seen a sign advertising the event and noticed it was scheduled just one day before his 14th birthday.
“Maybe I’ll do it for my birthday,” recalled his mother Katie, 49, a special-education teacher at Deasy Elementary School in Glen Cove.
“We figured it would be a good thing to donate money to help them,” said Liam, who raised more than $500 for the cause. “It feels good to be with my friends and give back, too.”