By Abbie Hackett Seacoastonline.com (New Hampshire)
Shepard is quick to acknowledge the support she has received. "It's an amazing company (Home Depot) to work for, with amazing people," she said, lifting her glasses to dab at her eyes with a tissue. "What do I do now?" she wondered aloud.
RYE — Seven people in bathing suits formed a line and sprinted into the icy Atlantic just as the sun grazed the top of the water at Wallis Sands on Sunday morning.
Spectators on the beach erupted in a chorus of hoots and hollers as they watched the sprinters completely submerge in an act of support and solidarity from Home Depot employees, called the "Homer Plunge."
Six of the seven swimmers are Home Depot managers who raised the most money in a company fund-raiser to benefit Sue Shepard, an associate whose 29-year-old daughter, Sonya Fanjoy, is awaiting several organ transplants. The plungers also included the daughter of one of the managers.
Thanks to the competition and Home Depot's pledge to donate two times what the managers raised in the spare-change contest, Shepard should have $4,500 of the $6,000 she expects to need in order to be with her daughter in Florida when she receives the transplants.
It's difficult for Shepard to know when the transplants will be able to take place, and she is constantly waiting for the call on her cell phone.
"I don't know how to appropriately say thank you for this," Shepard said as the group shrugged off towels in the 24-degree air and splashed into the surf.
The swimmers and Shepard were part of the crowd of 36 Home Depot employees, family members and friends who started to trickle onto the sand at 6:45 a.m., just as an orange sunrise began to smudge the horizon. Pretty soon orange — Home Depot's signature color — was everywhere: orange pompoms, silly string, glow sticks, hats and T-shirts peeking out from under jackets.
Store manager Nick LaPointe purposefully strode toward the water in sandals and a hooded sweatshirt, a tartan kilt covering his swim shorts.
He took no precautionary measures to protect his skin against the freezing water, calling that "cheating."
"This is Home Depot. We don't have to pull teeth to get people to come out to do this," LaPointe said. "We take care of our own and we had an associate in need."
Manager Eric Brenner pointed out how his daughter, Katrina, 24, rode a bus from Brooklyn, N.Y., to jump in the water at her dad's side. "She's here to support the cause, support me, and to get wet," Brenner said, adding his first winter plunge "was worth it for the money Sue will receive from this."
Katrina described the experience of swimming in the icy ocean.
"Ooh, I feel all tingly; it's like pins and needles on my whole body," Katrina exclaimed, shuffling up the beach, a blanket wrapped tightly around her.
LaPointe and the Brenners were joined in the water by Brandon Hardy, Jon Davis, Kelly Martin, and Allison Braman. Kristen Belanger, head cashier and Homer Plunge coordinator, teased Hardy good-naturedly, asking if he wanted a glow stick before jumping into the dark water to make sure he could be found. Davis welcomed a steaming cup of coffee and eschewed a towel upon emerging from the water.
Hardy admitted he was "nervous" before running into the water, but also called the anticipation "exciting."
"It's for a good cause and for teamwork," he said.
Terry Travers was disappointed he wasn't able to swim with his peers. A merchandising manager, he earned a spot among the top fund-raisers qualifying him to be part of the plunge, but was recently advised not to swim for medical reasons.
"They came up with this swimming idea and I was all for it," Travers said, orange pompoms tucked into the back pockets of his jeans.
Shepard is quick to acknowledge the support she has received. "It's an amazing company to work for, with amazing people," she said, lifting her glasses to dab at her eyes with a tissue. "What do I do now?" she wondered aloud.
"Go home and go to bed!" Belanger laughed.
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