A booming female voice blasts down the natural sloping amphitheater leading to the swimming hole at Highland’s Berean Park. “One, two, three — jump,” the voice shouts.
Out on the frozen lake, a wide semi-circular gouge is cut into the ice. People dressed in outrageous costumes walk on a makeshift path of kitty litter out to the edge of the hole in the ice to meet their chilly fates. They look nervous. Ulster County Sheriff Department divers in orange-and-black Viking dry suits mill about in the freezing, February water — ready to catch and help people as they splash.
As the divers land, they push through the waist-high waves to the shore as quickly as they can. Unseen hands reach out to wrap the shivering jumpers with piles of towels.
Out of the water and shivering, wearing a Peruvian hat and a neon-green vest, Brendan Boyce hugs himself trying to warm up. I ask how he’s feeling. “I’m cold,” he says, with a little smile.
Boyce is one of the founders of the Subzero Heroes winter dive, which started in 2010 in Dutchess County. Money raised by the event goes to help fight Alzheimer’s disease. In three years, the event has blossomed from a handful of spectators watching 20 people jump into freezing water to an event with 500 spectators, numerous sponsors and 125 charity divers.
“The whole thing was everybody’s a hero to care for people with Alzheimer’s, to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s,” Boyce says. “And why not jump into an ice-cold lake to raise awareness? We enjoy it. This is the best one so far.”