VIDEO, PHOTOS: Lake Hopatcong Leap Raises $25K For Special-Needs Kids
Lake Hopatcong Elks Lodge donates money to area special-needs children.
Denise Castelli's right leg was amputated below the knee a year and a half ago after a break turned into a bone infection.
That didn't stop the 25-year-old Netcong resident from participating in Saturday morning's Leap In The Lake at the Hopatcong State Park. Lake Hopatcong Elks Lodge member Rick Gathen said the second annual event drew 86 jumpers and raised $25,230, which will be donated to area special-needs children.
Hundreds of spectators stood on the ice and along the snow-covered beach to watch the jumpers, who donated at least $50 each. Some went in alone. Others held hands or leaped in with friends.
Castielli went in with the help Fred Barch of Budd Lake and Steve Haggerty of Blairstown. Castielli removed her prosthetic limb and put her arms around her friends' shoulders as they lowered her in.
"My toes are stinging a little, but it's not that bad," Castelli said while drying off on a pile of clothes on the ice.
She said community members rallied around her after her amputation.
"They raised money for me," said Castielli, who also said she raised $250 for Saturday. "So when I heard about this—that is was for kids with special needs, this was a way I could start giving back."
Gathen said Rockaway resident Samantha Martin made the largest donation at $2,300. High Grade Beverage, a Randolph beverage distributor, sent 35 participants at $100 each, calling themselves "Team Bud Ice."
Barch, a large thermometer hanging from his neck, said while the experience was unique, the charity aspect drew him in.
Gathen said he wasn't sure if he was surprised by this year's amount of donations. He said the Elks Lodge expected to raise $8,000 last year and walked away with $22,200. His goal this time was to beat that figure.
"I'm pleasantly pleased," Gathen said. "It's more than I thought."
Several state police officers, the Roxbury rescue squad and PMZ Landscaping might of had longer days than the participants. State police Sgt. John Nitto said they began breaking the lake ‘s 16-inch thick ice at 6 a.m. and didn't finish until the 10 a.m. start.
Barch said the crew went 50 feet into the lake because they wanted leapers to jump into water at least 3 feet deep.
"We thought it was going to go easier than this," said Nitto, wearing a neoprene suit. "We didn't realize the ice was going to be this thick, this heavy. I'm sure we broke several chainsaws today."
The chainsaws weren't the only casualty. One jumper injured his ankle early into the event and was taken away via ambulance.
The rest of the participants seemed to enjoy the cold fun. Jefferson resident Shaun Stokes, who donated $250, said he liked the cause and wanted to do something memorable. So did friends Diane Macchirola and Jim Conley of Hopatcong and Jack Pascale of Ledgewood.
"This is why we're here," Pascale said. "For special-needs children. And it brings the Viking out of us."
Patti Twaits stayed out of the water, but cheered on her friends. Twaits' 14-year-old daughter, Becca, has Down syndrome.
"It makes me feel real good," Patti Twaits said of the event.
Then she paused.