Hundreds take the Leprechaun Plunge
by Town Reminder
Hundreds take the Leprechaun Plunge
By Dennis P. Hohenberger
SOUTH HADLEY – Like a preacher of old, Luke Brunelle pointed his walking stick north and led his flock into the icy waters of the Connecticut River.
Thus began the annual Leprechaun Plunge, a frigid, madcap spectacle that raised money for a multitude of charities.
A sliver of ice was cut out at the river’s edge, down by the boat ramp at Brunelle’s Marina. Hundreds watched from the sides as dozens bravely marched into the unforgiving March waters.
Whipping winds, miles of unbroken ice in all directions, barely above freezing temperatures on land and in the water, proved perfect conditions for the plunge.
Divers from South Hadley Fire District 1, in full cold water diving suits, held watch over the late-winter bathers.
Whoops and gasps spewed forth from the brave souls who immersed themselves in the dark waters.
Brunelle, the marina’s owner, which includes Dockside Lounge, said the plunge has grown over the years, from a handful to now busloads of the willing. “We’re getting a little more organized every year. This is a first time ever we have a frozen river behind us. We’re excited to get this plunge going,” he said. “Every year Mother Nature throws a little something extra.”
He added the original intention for the plunge was to garner positive publicity for South Hadley.
“We had some tragedies that happened five or six years ago. We needed to turn the attitude around in this town and get some positive energy. That’s what this plunge is all about,” said Brunelle, “Positive energy.”
Tony Pluta, a five-time plunge veteran, honored a co-worker who passed away from brain cancer a few weeks ago.
“It always seems there’s someone we know as been affected by cancer. Last year, it was my daughter-in-law, 31-years from breast cancer. She’s doing well now. It’s a tragedy we got to keep fighting,” he said.
Pluta recalled the 2014 plunge featured 24-degree air and 33-degree water. “Today it will be a little better,” he said.
Brian Robinson, of Granby, who plunged for the ‘Kilted Krusaders,’ said his crew raised money for the Jimmy Fund. Like Pluta, he was relieved the river was a few degrees warmer, but not by much.
“It was worse waiting to go in. What’s the difference between a couple of degrees, cold is cold,” he said. “It’s like jumping in a bucket of ice. It’s cold, it’s quick and it’s quite refreshing.”
Robinson planned to jump in, jump out and get out of his wet clothes as fast as possible.
Teammate Jason Dout, of Chicopee, said, “They weaseled me in. I’ve been wanting to do it for a while. I just never had the chance. The opportunity came up this year. I’m nervous, but excited for it.”
State Rep. John Scibak D-South Hadley readied by the water’s edge with his Beacon Hill colleague, State Sen. Donald Humason R-Westfield, who dressed formerly in a suit and tie.
Scibak, only clad in shorts and t-shirt, pulled a late grouping for the plunge. “I’ve come before to watch it, but this is the first year that I’m jumping,” he said. “Some people put on a little pressure.”
Like many first-timers, Scibak did not prepare but only observed those who jumped in before him. “I just want to make sure my life insurance premiums are paid for,” he said.
Brunelle, who linked arm-in-arm with his teammates, slowly entered the river backwards. Despite the unspeakable cold, he maintained a wide grin and relished every second in the icy bath.
Satisfied, he sprinted from the water, dashed up a small hill and jumped into a waiting hot tub. “I love the hot tub after the plunge,” Brunelle shouted. “Thank you, Teddy Bear Pools.”
Brunelle said his only thought was getting to the hot tub after entering the water. He wrapped himself in a New England Patriots towel.
Screams of “awesome” and a litany of creative profanity-filled the air from the river to the hot tub. Despite the verbal onslaught, dozens lined up for the chance to leap into the river.
Faith, purpose or a touch of madness, whatever the reason, the sixth annual Leprechaun Plunge provided a community a touch of warmth on a late-winter day.