AT THE STRIKE OF NOON: More than 100 people took to the waters of Greenwich Bay New Year's Day to raise funds for nonprofits. Above, swimmers wait for the start of the Frozen Clam.
The temperature of the sun-drenched and ripple-less water at Oakland Beach was 46.1 degrees.
Hardly a day for a dip, right?
But on Jan. 1, 2012, there wasn’t even a slight breeze and the air temperature was hovering around 50 degrees – conditions were perfect.
And that’s probably why a record number of 71 people stood on the sandy shore, anxiously awaiting Poseidon’s word for the fourth annual Oakland Beach Carousel Foundation’s Seawall Splash.
Across Greenwich Bay at precisely the same time another 100 people gathered at Goddard Park Beach cheering on 38 people in trunks and bikinis ready to participate in the first Frozen Clam for the benefit of the Rhode Island Mentoring Partnership.
At Oakland Beach those who dared go into the water joined Poseidon – a.k.a. Jerry McLaughlin – in counting down the final seconds before they charged between Carousel horses Triton and Rhode into the bay. They made an equally fast retreat to dry off and cover up with everything from towels to blankets.
Once completed, this year’s Seawall Splash set several records – one being the event generated $2,700 in total revenue from registrations, raffle fees, donations and team fundraising. The other record was the number of participants.
“We had 71 people register,” Doreen Kosciusko, the event’s chairman who is a legal secretary at Beacon Mutual Insurance, said Monday. “We always have some people who just show up and run in the water ... we were very, very happy with the total number of participants ... we gained 11 more people than last year.”
Kosciusko, who was among those brave people who plunged into the chilly water, added, “By the time everything was done, we probably had upwards of 80 people.”
At the Frozen Clam, Nathan Andary of Providence donned a gray unitard for his plunge.
“Why not?” said Andary about his choice of clothing. “It’s seagull inspired.”
After a classic rendition of the National Anthem by four members of La Gondola Providence, swimmers lined up on the shore and began the count down to noon, when they dashed toward the water.
Most of the swimmers ran in and ran out, but some stayed in for a few moments longer, enduring the chilly water.
“I feel excellent, invigorated,” said Ryan McGowan through chattering teeth.
McGowan, a mentor with the Partnership and a devout New Year’s Day “plunger,” came up with the idea for the Frozen Clam around Thanksgiving.
Jo-Ann Schofield, president of the Mentoring Partnership, liked the idea so much that she took to the waters on Sunday, too.
“It was a shock,” she said about hitting the cold water. “I think I was screaming. These are the things we do to recruit more mentors.”
The event raised $1,132 for the Partnership, and they hope to have their second annual Frozen Clam next winter.
Click here to watch video from the Frozen Clam!
Back at the fourth Seawall Splash, Greenwood resident Bobby Ottone and one of his daughters, 12-year-old Giana, were among the first-year participants. His other daughter, Isabella, 11, opted for the landlubber title.
“Isabella doesn’t want to get wet!” Bobby Ottone offered. “But that’s okay. We’re going to have fun trying this.”
And that’s exactly what the father-and-daughter team did.
Likewise, Ashley Meizoso, a pretty 18-year-old brunette and recent Toll Gate High grad who is a freshman at the Community College of Rhode Island, was also among the first-timers to do the Seawall Splash.
“It was freezing,” said Meizoso, a member of Team Sammartino, while wrapping up in an over-sized beach towel. “Yes!” she replied to a reporter’s query if she’d do it again.
The same held true for Jennifer Sammartino of Warwick, who brought her two daughters – Ava, 11, and Liza, 8 – to their first-ever Seawall Splash.
“What was the water temperature anyway,” sighed Jennifer Sammartino, as she, too tried to warm up under a beach towel. “But this was fun ... we’ll do it again; maybe we’ll make this a family tradition.”
While she didn’t take home a prize, Victoria Saccoccio, 11, a student at Alan Shawn Feinstein School who lives in Coventry, might have had the largest group of fans at Monday’s Seawall Splash.
“Last year it was too cold,” Saccoccio said, as her family and friends formed a human blanket to help the shivering youngster warm up. “Yes, I’d do it again!”
Although some people proclaimed they’d “do it again next year,” Joe Sullivan, who owns and operates Crescendo AV in Warwick, said while sitting in the sun with his wife, “We just bought a house on Suburban Parkway. We figured this was a good way to interact with the community. This was my first time, but I’m going to do it next year for sure!”
After drying off, Sullivan and his wife joined a host of other participants – and their staunch supporters – who jammed into almost every nook and cranny of Marley’s on the Beach Restaurant and Lounge for a brief awards ceremony and pause-for the cause – a.k.a. customary New Year’s Day cocktails.
Leah Lepum, 3, took home the prize for being the youngest person to enter this year’s Seawall Splash.
Who was the oldest participant?
“We really don’t know,” Kosciusko said with a smile. “We don’t research those things.”
Cherie Field, who had what Kosciusko described as “some crazy hat get-up,” took home this year’s honor for the Best Costume. Nancy Louise, who started out and finished as a one-person team, took home the top team fundraising award. Her efforts netted $500 for the Oakland beach Carousel Foundation.
The top individual fundraiser, as it turned out, was David Hayes. He raised $250.
Thus, Kosciusko said the Seawall Splash has generated approximately $8,000 in its brief but fun-filled history.
“A carousel will cost millions of dollars to build,” Kosciusko emphasized. “The money we raise through the Seawall Splash is used to pay our rent, utilities, purchase wood to build the horses, paint and other supplies. Maybe some day we’ll realize the dream of seeing a real carousel!”
The Oakland Beach Carousel Foundation rents a storefront located at 2438 West Shore Road. Anyone who’d like to contact or participate in the foundation should either call (401) 737-2727 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on the Rhode Island Mentoring Partnership, visit www.metorri.org.