This Year’s Plunge for ALS Breaks Million Dollar Mark






March 19, 2013
By Caren Caterina

MANASQUAN — With a beautiful blue sky and temperatures nearing 50, Saturday’s weather could not have been more perfect for the many plungers about to brave the chilly Atlantic Ocean, which was a mild 48 degrees.

Rip currents in the ocean on Saturday would have been enough to raise a red flag during the summer months, said organizers.

But, with men, women and children clad in everything from ballerina tutus to banana costumes and bathing suit bottoms to bikinis, all were at the Manasquan beachfront for a good cause: the Seventh Annual Valentine Plunge, and the show went on.

Held near Brielle Road Beach, plungers jumped in the ocean at noon.

The staple winter event in town serves as a fundraiser for two local organizations — the Joan Dancy and PALS [People with ALS] Foundation, and staytough.fightHARD Inc.

According to Manasquan resident and Plunge Committee Chairman Jim O’Neill, proceeds from the annual plunge will go toward funding the needs of people who live with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis [ALS], more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. As motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost — often resulting in ALS patients becoming paralyzed.

Mr. O’Neill said instead of raising funds for research, as there is no cure for ALS, the focus of the fundraiser is to raise money to support the quality of life issues for local individuals who have ALS.

Proceeds will help fund much-needed items like wheelchairs and ramps.

Mr. O’Neill knows firsthand how ALS can affect someone, as his late brother Tim died from the disease at the age of 45 in 2007.

“Today we are breaking a million dollars in seven years for ALS,” said Mr. O’Neill.

Mr. O’Neill said the monies raised benefit many across Monmouth and Ocean counties.

“It means everything in the world to me,” Mr. O’Neill said, about the plunge. “These are my friends.”

“We have perseverance, love, we enjoy life,” continued Mr. O’Neill. “And we will beat it [ALS].”

“Jump in and feel the love,” Mr. O’Neill said.

Tim O’Neill was the father of Tim O’Neill Jr., who grew up in Point Pleasant and resides in California.

“I helped to start staytough.fightHARD with friends in college,” he said.

The organization eventually partnered with Joan Dancy and PALS, he said.

Mr. O’Neill, dressed like a leprechaun for Saturday’s plunge, thanked “all those who have supported us.

“It is a great day,” he continued.

Mr. O’Neill said though ALS affects each person differently, he understands what families are going through with this condition.

“Our hearts are with them. We are here for them,” he said.

Many from all over the local Shore area, and even out-of-staters, were ready to enjoy all the plunge had to offer, whether they were jumping in themselves or there to cheer others on.

Aberdeen resident John Desimini said he was at the event to help support the organizations and raise awareness of ALS.

“It is a good thing to do,” he said.

Mr. Desimini said his cousin is also a double lung transplant recipient and his mother-in-law needed a liver transplant.

He was at the plunge on Saturday to support a team of people aptly named Team Donor.

“This is a great way for us to show people ALS and organ donation needs to be recognized by the public,” Mr. Desimini said.

Keely Davenport, of Toms River, along with about 25 others who wore shirts to represent “Pete’s Gang,” were at the plunge in support of her father, Peter, who has ALS.

“He is OK. He is hanging in and staying strong,” Ms. Davenport said. “‘Thumbs up’ is our motto.

“My dad was just diagnosed in September,” she added.

Prior to jumping into the water, Ms. Davenport said it was most likely going to be “freezing” in the ocean.

“But it is a beautiful day and he has it much worse,” she said, of her father. “It is going to be fun.”

Ms. Davenport said she was excited to be at the event, especially because she holds the cause so close to her heart.

“It is a disease that doesn’t get much recognition and it needs all the support it can get,” Ms. Davenport said.

Wall residents and St. Catharine School students Erin Paniscotti and Mary Cate Pilla, both 9, were waiting to jump in. Both girls’ grandparents have been affected by the condition.

Erin said her grandfather died from a form of ALS when she was a young girl.

This was her first time participating in the plunge.

“I’m doing this to help find a cure,” Erin said.

“My grandfather is still fighting,” Mary Cate said, noting she did the plunge last year.

“We are freezing for a reason,” Mary Cate said.

Mary Cate’s mother, Toni, was also ready to take the plunge in honor of her father, Victor.

PALS “has been such a great support for my family,” Mrs. Pilla said.