Diana Carannante, 55, of East Meadow, who belongs to a...

Diana Carannante, 55, of East Meadow, who belongs to a group called, "Bakery Babes," on behalf of Entenmann's Family Bakery in East Meadow, plunged into the water, along with nearly 600 people at North Hempstead Beach Park in Port Washington during the town's 9th annual Polar Plunge, which raised $100,000 for the New York Special Olympics. Credit: Brittany Wait

Standing between his mother and father, Brendan Gallagher took their hands and raced into the frigid 35-degree water at North Hempstead Beach Park on Saturday.

He got in as far as his knees before the cold became too much and he darted back out. But it was an improvement over last year.

“Last year, he went in up to his ankles and this year up to his knees,” said Gallagher’s father, Joseph, 47, of Levittown. “Maybe next year we’ll get farther in. It was a good day and we’re lucky to be part of this.”

The Gallaghers were participating in their second polar plunge with their 150-person team, “Brendan’s Brigade,” formed 10 years ago to support 18-year-old Brendan Gallagher, who has autism.

The team was among the 600 who plunged into Hempstead Harbor at North Hempstead Beach Park in Port Washington during The Town of North Hempstead’s 9th annual Polar Plunge.

The event raised nearly $100,000 for the New York Special Olympics, said Kristina Aquilone, associate director of development for the Special Olympics organization.

“We’re freezin’ for a reason to show that we have the bravery that our athletes have,” said Aquilone, 28, of Smithtown, who did not plunge, but helped organize the event. “The money will go towards providing sports training for our 56,000 New York athletes with intellectual disabilities, providing them with uniforms, training and anything else they need.”

“Brendan’s Brigade” raised $25,000 for the plunge, the most of any single group. Joseph Gallagher said he also thinks his son had the most fun this year because he saw many of his friends from MacArthur High School in Levittown take the plunge, too.

His classmate, ninth grader Sabrina Galeotafiore, 14, of Levittown, took the plunge for the first time wearing a multi-colored bikini and sunglasses.

“When you get in the water -- that expression ‘it takes your breath away,’ that’s literally what happened,” she said.

She said braving the cold was worth it because it was for a good cause.

“Every $400 we raise, an athlete goes to the Special Olympics and we’ve raised thousands,” she said. “It feels so good to help Brendan in any way we can.”

Diana Carannante, an employee at Entenmann's Family Bakery in East Meadow, whose team, "Bakery Babes" raised $500, held her arms tight across her chest as she walked to shore shivering.

"I can't describe it better than that it was just cold," said Carannante, 55, of East Meadow. "But I had a lot of fun and hey, we raised some money for these kids. That's what matters most."
 

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