Leapers Take the Plunge in Icy Lake Hopatcong
LANDING, NJ _ Just shy of 10 seconds.
That’s the length of time Mount Arlington’s Joe Pelino stayed under the water after he and his team, the Pink Fuzzies, skipped from the shoreline 25 yards out into icy Lake Hopatcong and dared to submerge themselves in the frigid water. He and his group, wife Lisa, friends Kristi Kayser and Doreen Chaplin were the last four people to ‘leap’ into the frigid lake and Pelino was sure he could stay under water for at least 10 seconds.
The fourth annual Lake Hopatcong Elks Lodge #782 Leap in the Lake event at Hopatcong State Park drew a record number of leapers, 230, and raised a record amount of money, $53,000, for the Elks signature charity, special needs children. The four Pink Fuzzies, who walked across the lake to the state park from a house in Landing, together raised $1800 and have promised to return next year. Pelino will get another chance at 10 seconds.
“Our little event has grown into a real big event,” said a smiling Rick Gathen, Leap in the Lake coordinator. Gathen never wavered on his decision to go ahead with the event despite the 10-12 inches of snow that hit the area overnight. Gathen estimates that over 300 spectators showed up at the state park to bear witness to the brave souls who forfeited the warmth of their hats and mittens and insulated boots, for the frigid waters, all for a good cause.
“The less clothes the better,” said second year Leaper Ginger Dorwart who went into the water wearing just a bikini and kayak shoes. “The hardest part is when your bare feet hit the cold ground. That’s why this year I wore the kayak shoes. It made a big difference from last year when I just wore flip flops, but it was colder this year,” she said.
Dorwart, who lives in Byram, was part of the 23-person team from the Wearhouse Grille who named themselves, Wearhouse Chille. Personally, Dorwart raised $200 on her own. As a team, the Chille raised just under $6000. Competing in the bar challenge, the Chille, one of 17 local bars to participate, came in third place behind second place finisher, A-Net’s Vikings, who $6170 raised, and the winner, McQ’s Quackpots who raised $7350. A Net’s Pub, located in Netcong was the defending champion in the bar challenge. This year’s winning bar, JT McQ’s is located in Randolph.
Team Castaways from Castaways Tavern in Hopatcong and Charley’s Angels from Charley’s Tavern in the Lake Hopatcong section of Jefferson came in fourth and fifth respectfully.
“It’s a great cause,” said Team Castaways captain Ken Insco who had eight people signed up to leap. The group, minus one because of an illness, came dressed like castaways and even had the likeness of Tom Hank’s “Wilson” on their t-shirts and on the volleyball that made it into the water with them.
“We will get more people to go in the water next year,” said second-year leapter Insco, who personally raised close to $500 dollars for his team.
Participants in this year’s event didn’t actually leap into the lake, as they did two years ago, when the lake was frozen solid and the ice was 16” thick. This time around they were able to walk, tip toe, skip or sprint from the shoreline and go out about 30 yards into open water that got only as deep as three feet. To keep all the participants safe in the water, two members each from the Stanhope Ice Rescue team and Roxbury FD Co. #2, wearing protective suits, were in the water stationed just at the edge of the ice. Also in the water were two volunteers from the New Jersey State Police station on Lake Hopatcong, and Doug Detroy, a commercial diver who is a member of Lodge #782.
Detroy was at the park by 7 AM, wearing his dive suit and armed only with shovel. He was able to clear snow off the ice and then was able to chip through, creating the open water area. The state police then brought their air boat and used that to make the open water area larger.
First time leapers, Megan Kirschner sporting devil horns and Chris Allain, dressed as an angel, both said they will leap again next year. The Landing residents were part of Muldoon’s Pipers, representing Muldoon’s Irish Pub in Ledgewood.
“We are definitely doing it again next year, and with better costumes. I had second thoughts this morning, after all the snow, but once we got here it was all good,” said Kirschner. “We were thinking about going down the shore to do a polar plunge but when we saw the poster at Muldoon’s we decided to stay here and do it. It’s such a great cause. Can’t pass up a chance to help the kids,” she said.
Clayton Bridges from Mount Arlington was also a first-time leaper and said that running into the cold lake was “easier than I thought it would be.” According to his wife, Karen Porfido, he has been training for this event for quite some time.
“Every day it’s like he’s training for this. After every hot shower, he blasts himself with cold water so running into the lake is like his cold showers,” she said. Porfido said she is definitely on board to leap next year.
Leapers and spectators were invited back to the Elks Lodge for an afternoon celebration and for the awarding of the trophies. Awards went to the winner of the bar challenge, best costumes and to the individual who raised the most money. About 350 people attended the celebration party.
Madelyn Walrod, kitchen manager and Elks member, started cooking Friday morning, for both the after party and the pre-party, which was held Friday night. About 150 braved the snow storm and attended the pre-party, said Gathen.
According to Walrod, her staff of volunteers helped serve 300 hot dogs, 280 medium-size sliders, 10 cases of chicken fingers, 20 pounds of french fries, 25 pounds of sausage, 24 pounds of kielbasa, 25 gallons of home-made turkey soup, 30 quarts of chile, trays of penne vodka, bowls of tossed salad and stacks of sloppy joe sandwiches, all made by herself and her staff in the Elks Lodge kitchen.
Gathen is already thinking about how to improve the event for next year, addressing the parking and crowding issues at the state park. But he wants next year’s event to be even bigger than this year’s. Smiling, he relayed a comment that someone made to him when they saw the amount of people at the Leap. “Someone said to me; Wow! You’re going to have to get a bigger lake!”