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Sunken Meadow polar plunge honors Commack’s Kerry Rose

Participants of the 2014 New Year's Day Polar

Participants of the 2014 New Year's Day Polar Plunge at Sunken Meadow State Park splash around in the Long Island Sound. Credit: Tara Conry

Wearing a bikini and a Viking helmet, Carly Fitzsimons charged into the Long Island Sound Wednesday afternoon along with family, friends and dozens of other so-called “polar bears.” Although Fitzsimons, 20, of Commack, had admitted minutes earlier that she was not looking forward to going into the chilly water again for her second polar plunge, she said her sister’s legacy was drawing her back in.

For the second consecutive year, the annual New Year’s Day Polar Plunge at Sunken Meadow State Park in Kings Park benefited the Kerry Rose Foundation, which Fitzsimons’ family founded in 2012 after the death of her sister, Kerry Rose Fitzsimons, at the age of 21.

Kerry Rose Fitzsimons was a senior at Marist College in upstate Poughkeepsie when she was killed on Jan. 21, 2012, along with a fellow student and a Marist alum in a fire that broke out inside their off-campus housing. Officials determined the home was not equipped with a fire sprinkler system, which prompted Fitzsimons’ family to form a nonprofit to advocate for fire-safety awareness for on- and off-campus housing at colleges across the country.

In response to the foundation’s work, New York State adopted a new law, called the Kerry Rose Sprinkler Notification Act, in July. It requires public and private colleges in New York to provide written information on fire safety and sprinkler systems to students residing in college-owned or operated housing. Kerry Rose’s father, Bobby Fitzsimons, 52, said a federal bill is also in the works.

“We’re just trying to make a difference,” he said. “No family should have to go through this. She was a great kid, we miss her dearly and we’re trying to keep her memory alive by doing stuff like this.”

Peter Porcaro, the organizer of the polar plunge, now in its 12th year, said he chose the Kerry Rose Foundation as the beneficiary of the event, because his daughter, Valerie, 25, had known Kerry.

Porcaro, 53, of Smithtown, said the polar plunge at Sunken Meadow State Park started out as a New Year’s Day tradition just among a few of his friends, but they have turned it into a charity event. In past years, it has raised money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and the American Cancer Society.

This year, more than 50 people participated in the plunge, although Porcaro outlasted them all.

If Kerry Rose was still alive, Carly Fitzsimons said her sister would definitely have joined her in the frigid water.

“She was a big scaredy cat, but she would definitely have done it, and she would have loved to see everyone here together,” she said. “She would be proud.” 

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