The weather could not have been better had it been special ordered. Air temperatures hovered in the high 50s. Water temperature was 42 degrees. Although the sun was blocked by a sky reminiscent of a silver and grey quilted blanket, when it peaked through, its warmth could be felt. And thus January 1, 2019 was a spectacular day for a swim.
Hundreds of people piled onto Mattapoisett Town Beach to support or participate in the annual event were once again entertained by hot dance tunes and a warm tent where hot drinks and food donated by local venues helped to take the chill off.
What many were unaware of is that the 2019 event almost didn’t take place.
Will and Michelle Huggins, the founders of the annual fundraiser, had reconsidered putting the event on this year. Will was facing some medical challenges and the energy required to pull off an event of the scale … well, they weren’t sure they could do it.
As the song goes, “I get by with a little help from my friends,” friends of the couple couldn’t let that happen. And so, with lots of assistance and with others shouldering the heavy duty of coordinating “Freezin’ For a Reason,” the Huggins watched from the sidelines wearing grateful smiles.
The Hugginses have had their share of struggling through a cancer diagnosis. It was those struggles and the subsequent unseen costs associated with getting through it all that inspired them to start a fundraiser that could help other families with unforeseen expenses.
Unlike other fundraising activities that funnel monies into medical research, the Huggins’ Freezin’ For a Reason gives money directly to families with financial burdens brought to the fore by cancer.
Huggins said as he stood by the beach bonfire celebrating with friends, “We average around $11,000 in donations for this event, but we won’t know the full amount for about two weeks.” Those monies will be divided between several families identified as being in need of assistance.
While young and young at heart alike were well aware of the importance of the fundraiser, the F-U-N was on full display.
There were Santa heads, horse heads, and abominable snow monster heads donned by New Year’s Day revelers, none of which seemed to fair well once the swimmer hit the water. There were soloists and families trudging out to reach deep water as low tide made the plunge just a bit more difficult.
With the music pumping and spontaneous reunions taking place throughout the crowd, the clock ticked down to the moment of truth: 5-4-3-2-1! Plungers laughed and screamed their way into the waiting water. Less then a minute later, many were thundering back to the warmth of towels and fleece.
Mattapoisett’s John Jacobsen and his 13-year-old son were return plungers, with the senior Jacobsen saying the water was “amazing.”
Mike King said he did the plunge “to make sure my heart was still working.”
Youngsters Autumn and Hunter Horesey seemed completely unfazed afterwards, and planned to do it again next year, as did 9-year-old Rose Miconi.
Mike LaCroix, along with his niece, 11-year-old Maya Warren, was aware of the importance of the event, while also relishing the good time.
Nine-year-old Torrin Brodo said she planned on doing it again next year too, if she finds herself in the area.
At the eight-minute mark there were still several swimmers in the water vying for the bragging rights of being the one who stayed in the longest. But when they finally got out of the water, they quickly melted into the crowd not to be seen again. When asked, the organizers could not identify those brave souls.
Kyle McCullough, 14, has been doing the event for several years and beamed as he returned to his towel.
Kay Coney, a first timer, was jubilant as she returned to her car saying, “It’s good to start the year out by trying something tough,” and commenting, “Hell, yes!” when asked if she’d do it again.
As fast as the swimmers and supporters poured onto the beach, they poured off the beach, leaving behind only the fieriest party-goers who were line dancing, and the small children who refused to give up their swinging.
By Marilou Newell