For years the Hudson Valley chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association has hosted a popular polar plunge at Highland’s Berean Park. At their Subzero Heroes event on Saturday they raised money that will be used to find a cure for the disease and to help those who are presently affected and to assist family members.
This year there were nearly 90 “jumpers” who braved the pond’s cold water, all in an effort to bring resources and attention to a disease that has no known cure and is often called the “long goodbye,” as the progression of the disease can be agonizingly slow.
The illness is named after Alois Alzheimer [1864-1915] a German Psychiatrist and Neuropathologist who, along with his colleague Emil Kraepelin, identified the first known case of ‘pre-senile dementia’ in 1901. It is defined as “a common form of dementia of unknown cause, usually beginning in late middle age, characterized by progressive memory loss and mental deterioration associated with brain damage.” [Random House Webster’s College Dictionary 2001 pg. 38]
Many of the participants dressed up in colorful handmade costumes for the special occasion, and approached their moment of truth with the water with great aplomb.
1st Assist. Highland Fire Chief James Anzalone said this year he and his company raised $14,021, including $500 from the Milton Engine Company, giving a special “shout out” to their Milton brothers Adam Kneeter and Alan Koenig. Anzalone has taken the plunge every year since the Alzheimer’s Association brought their event to Berean Park.
Herb Litts participates in the plunge in honor of his mother Janet, who has Alzheimer’s. He said his mother’s disease “is progressing like Alzheimer’s does.”
Emmett Woods, proprietor of Mahoney’s Irish Pub in New Paltz, says he does not jump without his friend Litts.
“Wherever Herby jumps, I jump; we jump together,” he said.
Woods is hopeful the association will reach their goal of $100,000.
“They’re going to make it. They are 100 percent a great organization,” he said.
Each year trophies are handed out to the top three organizations or individuals that raise the most money. This year the Ulster County Sheriff’s Department under Sheriff Paul Van Blarcum took first place by raising $20,715; Radio Host Bob Miller, of station 92.9 WBPM, came in second with $17,415 and the Highland Hose Company, under Asst. Chief Jimmie Anzalone, came in third place with $14,021 for a total of $52,151. The trio have been carrying on a friendly rivalry for years but all with the goal of eradicating Alzheimer’s Disease.
At the microphone Miller could not help but tease Van Blarcum, promising “at the same time next year I want that [1st Place] trophy back in my house.” Van Blarcum shot right back, saying, “I understand but I will not do it again unless you apologize on Monday on the airwaves about how bad you treated me for the past couple of months,” which elicited a huge laugh from Miller and the crowd.
In a subsequent interview, the Sheriff smiled, saying the competition among the trio “is not a little rivalry; it’s friendly but I win every year.” He added that the event “is a great cause and great fun and for me this is the start of Spring. We might get another storm or two but for me it’s the start.”
Several additional awards were handed out just before the jump: the ‘Purple Plungers’ took First Place for costumes for a duo; the ‘Jumping Sharks’ took home the award for Best Team Costume and Linda from the ‘Sassy Girls’ Team won in the Funniest Costume category.
Two baskets of goodies were also awarded, one to ‘Team TEG 2018’ and a second to ‘Salem Hills’.
The Lloyd Police Department has participated in the plunge for the past four years. Lt. James Janso estimated that his department has raised about $5,500 for the association, saying, “it’s a good day.”
Janso designs the costumes for his department for all of the community events. For this year “it was our patriotic USA theme. It took awhile in planning where we wanted to get, but they look good.”
Police Chief Daniel Waage said the water was “definitely cold” but the air temperature hovering at about 40 degrees was better than it has been in years past.
“It’s a great cause and we’re happy to participate and it’s really a team building exercise as well for us,” he said.
Waage commented on their outfits.
“We’re very proud to represent the USA and have the flag. We stand for the flag,” he said.
Chief Waage said the disease not only is devastating to an individual who has the disease but greatly impacts the entire family.
“I think that is why we get a good amount of spectators as well,” he said.
David Sobel, President and CEO of the Hudson Valley Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, said the Subzero Heroes event is one of the highlights of the year. He said throughout the year the association “does amazing work and programs and services for people living with Alzheimer’s and their families and their caregivers.” Sobel said the association hosts support groups, runs educational programs, does outreach and provides a 24 hour hot-line for the public at 1-800-272-3900. There is also a website available at www.alz.org/hudsonvalley for more information.
Sobel praised his staff and the volunteers who participated in the event this year.
“We have amazing people who are out here for the cause; they know why they’re here. They’re not out here to be frozen, they’re out here to raise money,” he said. “They know it’s the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. There is no known cure and not even a way to slow the progression of the disease.”
Sobel said unfortunately the number of cases of Alzheimer’s is growing in the U.S. and now touches nearly everyone in some way.
“There are over 5 million people in the United States living with Alzheimer’s [and] by 2050 they are saying there will be 15 million,” he said. “Its a devastating disease and we’re here trying to stop it.” He noted that Alzheimer’s mostly affects people over the age of 65 but at times it hits someone in their forties, in an early onset of the disease.
Margaret Miller is the Helpline Manager for the Hudson Valley Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. Sobel calls her “our helpline guru,” saying that when people call, “they talk to Margaret. She helps them with everything.”
Miller said she is getting more calls from people in their 50s and 60s as well as from caregivers and family members asking about the symptoms of the disease and where to get tested.
“We get a variety of calls, we have children who are needing support, home care or with assisted living or nursing homes,” she said.
Miller said some people ask for tips on how to dress or bath an Alzheimer’s patient or for suggestions on what activities they can do with someone afflicted with the disease.
Sobel said some of the money raised by the Subzero Heroes event goes to the home office in Chicago for research purposes but a majority of the funds stay in the Hudson Valley.
The Alzheimer’s Association also hosts five annual Walks to End Alzheimer’s in the seven counties they cover in the valley. Last year the Westchester Walk alone raised $500,000, placing it at number 29 in the U.S. In total, the five local walks raised nearly $1 million in 2017.
“So this year we’re shooting for the stars and will try to break that million dollar mark and I think we’ll do it,” Sobel believes.
Locally, the Walk to End Alzheimer’s is scheduled for October 28 starting on the Highland side of the Walkway Over the Hudson State Park. Registration starts at 9 a.m. followed by a ceremony at 10 a.m. and the walk itself kicking off at 10:30 a.m.
By Mark Reynolds