Valentine Plunge Shows Love for Those with ALS



February 14, 2014
By Amanda Stone

MANASQUAN — Despite a chance of snow and a frigid ocean temperature, hundreds took to the sea over the weekend to participate in the Valentine Plunge in Manasquan.

The annual event draws hundreds each year and does so for a good cause, as all proceeds from the plunge benefit two local nonprofits which focus on funding the needs of people who live with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis [ALS], more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The two nonprofits which benefit from the plunge each year are the Joan Dancy and People with ALS [PALS] Foundation, and the staytough/fightHARD Foundation.

This year, the plunge helped raise more than $260,000, which will benefit families living in both Ocean and Monmouth counties.

To date, the plunge has helped raise more than $1.1 million to benefit the needs of those living with ALS, according to Jim O’Neill, plunge committee chairman and a resident of Manasquan.


For some, the plunge was a fun way to spend a cold, Saturday morning. For others, the plunge was a way to give back.

The Penkethman and Sprengel families of Wall Township came out to the plunge to each honor a family member who died as a result of ALS.

Their combined team had more than 30 people who were not only eager to jump into the ocean, but also remember their loved ones.

Together, the families honored Robert Armitage, who lost his battle to ALS in 2010, and Patricia Sprengel, who lost her battle to ALS in 2013.

Allison Penkethman, the daughter of the late Mr. Armitage, has been participating in the plunge for four years.

“The disease of ALS took away my father’s ability to talk, eat and ultimately breathe,” Mrs. Penkethman said. “He described the fear that ‘something was closing up and he was suffocating.’”

Mrs. Penkethman said participating in the plunge and raising funds for the nonprofits is her family’s way of giving back.

“I can’t say enough about the Joan Dancy and PALS Foundation,” Mrs. Penkethman said. “They were amazing for guidance as we journeyed through this disease.”

Mrs. Penkethman continued, “The Joan Dancy and PALS Foundation supported us in so many ways — medical knowledge, home visits by amazing staff, and equipment to assist our loved one in their life with ALS. If it were not for the guidance of The Joan Dancy and PALS Foundation our families would have been lost. We truly believe in this foundation.”

Mrs. Penkethman continued, “We’re happy to support them in any way to help someone else through this nasty disease.”

Kerry Sprengel-Burgin, the daughter of the late Mrs. Sprengel, said her family decided to participate in the plunge for the first time this year as a way to give back. Her mother died last year just six months after being diagnosed with ALS.

“We’re really excited to be able to give back to the Joan Dancy and [PALS] Foundation,” Mrs. Sprengel-Burgin said. “They were invaluable.”

Mrs. Sprengel-Burgin continued, “They were there immediately. Their support was unbelievable.”

She said the foundation has also helped her family, and others, learn more about ALS. Before her mother was diagnosed, Mrs. Sprengel-Burgin said she knew little about the disease.

“I think there needs to be more awareness about the awful disease,” Mrs. Sprengel-Burgin said.

This year’s plunge also drew hundreds from around the country, including Deb Quinn, of New York, and Karen DiGiacomo, of North Carolina.

Ms. Quinn was diagnosed with ALS several years ago. Mrs. DiGiacomo’s adult son, Louis, is also fighting the disease.

The two met in New York while attending a fundraiser, and have kept in touch not only with each other, but several other people around the country, through social media.

Ms. Quinn said she has participated in the plunge for the last three years, saying she “absolutely loves it.”

Ms. Quinn also commended the nonprofits who benefit from the plunge.

“They are a great group that helps support all of us ALS patients,” Ms. Quinn said. “It’s an expensive disease.”

She continued, “The foundation is awesome, I can’t say enough about what they do.”

Mrs. DiGiacomo also said the foundations have been great for those who have ALS.

“They help a lot of people with ALS,” Mrs. Mrs. DiGiacomo said.


With summer still months away, last weekend’s plunge had less than ideal beach weather.

However, the cold water and air did not stop hundreds from taking to the ocean — some for a few seconds, some for about one minute.

Mike Mannino, of Ocean, participated in the plunge for the second time this year.

“It’s fantastic,” Mr. Mannino said.

He said he does not think about the cold weather before jumping in.

“You don’t really feel anything because it is so cold,” Mr. Mannino said.

He encouraged others to plunge next year.

“Everyone has to do this at least once,” Mr. Mannino said.

Taylor Ganter, of Howell, participated in the plunge for the third year in a row last Saturday. She plunged in honor of her aunt, Teresa, who was diagnosed with ALS.

“You don’t think about it when you’re going in,” Ms. Ganter said. “It’s exhilarating.”

Despite being cold after jumping into the ocean, Ms. Ganter said it was worth it.

“Every year it makes me happy that I am doing it for a good cause,” Ms. Ganter said.

To learn more about the Valentine Plunge or the two foundations it benefits, visit or