WESTMORE - It was a splish-splashing good time as 71 brave souls stripped off their winter weather gear and took a brief dip in Willoughby Lake Sunday. Fred Laferriere of St. Johnsbury started the event nine years ago. Each participant was asked to pay a minimum $100 entry fee. Most people obtain sponsors. Proceeds benefit the American Cancer Society.
Two years ago, the swimmers teamed up with the St. Johnsbury Relay for Life, sponsored by the American Cancer Society.
Each person at the dip had his or her own reason for taking part in the swim. For Laferriere, it was losing his brother Jake to the disease in 2002.
“I’m not a doctor but I thought if I could raise some money for the American Cancer Society, that’s what I could do to help out,” said Laferriere. “It’s grown every year. The first year we had a half dozen or so.”
Laferriere never knows what the conditions of the lake will be. He called Sunday’s conditions a “Best Case Scenario.” There was no ice and the temperature was relatively warm, however it was windy. Some years, the swimmers have had to breakup the ice before entering the water.
Why New Year’s Day? Laferriere said it’s something dreamed up and has nothing to do with similar New Year’s Day swims that take place elsewhere in the United States.
Laferriere’s promises this swim will continue for years to come. “Last year I said for the next thousand years I’ll be doing this,” Laferriere said.
Travis Martin of Newark plunged for the first time. “I want to start the New Year off fresh,” he said.
“It’s something fun to do on the first day and Fred is a good friend of mine and I do what I can to help him out,” added Kerry Colby of North Concord, who has been coming back to the same spot for the past seven years. So why would he want to go for an icy swim? “Compared to what cancer patients go through, this is nothing.”
Lizzy Berube, who works at Northern Vermont Regional Hospital in St. Johnsbury, helps organize the event. Berube first got involved with family members several years ago.“The Northeast Kingdom is a very special place,” she said. “We’re very family oriented. Last year, NVRH employees raised $4,800."
“It’s something that we feel we need to do,” added her daughter Nora Berube of Lyndonville. “We’ve had a lot of cancer in our family.”
Hannah Ruede and Maegan Moran of Lyndonville wrapped themselves in a comforter and waited excitedly for the swim to begin from the shoreline. They returned wet and shivering. “We’re trying to create a world with more birthdays,” said Ruede, who said she Moran take part in the Relay for Life. Their team, Kids for a Cure, has taken part in the event for five years. “Today, between the two us, we raised just under a thousand. We’re just trying to make a difference even though we’re kids.”
Moran called sitting at home, next to a warm fire, boring. “We like to live on the edge,” she said.
“I love this event,” said State Vice President of American Cancer Society Hilary Casillas who attended and took part in the event. “I lost people to cancer in my life and I feel this is a way to fight back. Really start the New Year Right with the resolution to fight cancer anyway I can.”