Taking the Plunge
Leah Kisselbrack addresses her livestream audience after a freezing plunge into the cold waters of Cedar Lake on Nov. 15, which raised more than $12,000 for local food programs. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Leah Kisselbrack was surprised. Of course, anybody might be in a bit of shock if they had plunged into Cedar Lake in Chester at this time of year. But that’s not what surprised Leah. She was amazed that so many people were interested in her plunge.
But the plunge succeeded beyond what Kisselbrack had anticipated—and not simply because she didn’t end up with pneumonia as a result of the experience. With the help of Nutmeg Rotary and a matching program of Liberty Bank, she raised more than $12,000 for local food programs.
The saga of the how the plunge came to be is somewhat complicated. Kisselbrack said one day for no particular reason she realized that this was the time of year for polar plunges. She asked on her Facebook page if anyone would join her in a plunge with funds pledged going to a worthwhile organization. She thought about organizations that help children or possibly a woman’s shelter, but decided that helping local food pantries was a way she could reach whole families.
The plan was for anybody interested to meet on Sunday, Nov. 15 at 11 a.m. at Cedar Lake. To maintain social distancing, five people at a time would take to the water. Then things spiraled out of control.
Friends were telling friends and the group of would-be plungers seemed to Kisselbrack to be growing exponentially.
“I did not realize the reach. Social media was the reason. Everybody was ready to get behind this,” she said.
All the while, however, the COVID-19 numbers were also growing. Kisselbrack became increasingly uncomfortable about the ability of those who were planning to show up at Cedar Lake to socially distance, so she decided on an alternate plan.
The day before the scheduled plunge, she got on Facebook Live and said the group plunge was off. Instead, she would do an individual plunge at that very moment, and filming the event, she waded into Cedar Lake in workout shorts and a pink tank top.
She wore a bathing cap because she knew if her hair got wet she would be much colder. That was a bit of professional expertise. Kisselbrack, who grew up in Chester, is a beautician who owns Leah’s Bella Vita salon in Deep River.
It was a windy day. There were whitecaps on the water at the lake.
“It was an adrenaline rush. My brain was saying ‘No’ but the adrenaline was saying ‘Go,’” she remembered.
She was in the water for three or four minutes.
“I was very surprised. It was not freezing,” she said.
The only person watching Kisselbrack in person was Courier Chief Photographer Kelley Fryer. Kisselbrack’s husband Patrick Fisher was home with the couple’s two young daughters, who were taking their naps.
A Wider Audience
A lot of people, however, have seen the video, which is on Kisselbrack’s Facebook page and inspired by her example, have done plunges themselves. Among them is Timothy Haut, senior pastor of the Deep River Congregational Church, who jumped into the water in a retro striped one-piece suit.
The fundraiser is now over. Leah has identified five organizations to which she would like to donate funds: Shoreline Soup Kitchens & Pantries, the Haddam Health Department, the Chester Community Fund, the Deep River Community Fund, and the Town of Killingworth Helping Hands program.
This is likely the first but not the last plunge that Kisselbrack does.
“I’d like to make this an annual event,” she said.