LOCKPORT-It was hard to miss Eric Ditty's team when they stripped to their skivvies yesterday to dive into the cold waters for the Freezing for a Reason Polar Plunge at the boat launch.
Eric, of course, wore his fluorescent orange Speedo with a neon-yellow Army PT belt, while his teammate Nic Kosierowski emblazened the scene in a screaming orange T-shirt and jean short-shorts... while Sean MacMillen sported a floral sundress.
Eric more than met his Facebook bet that he would wear a Speedo to the plunge if he could raise $1,000 for the Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society-he doubled that amount at $2,001.
Elizabeth Regan/The Express
Three women take the plunge at a Multiple Sclerosis Society fundraiser.
So his buddies who work or volunteer at the local Veterans Affairs (V.A.) office with him decided to be good sports and join in the fun and wear crazy outfits, too.
"Eric guilted us into it," Sean said, grinning.
Clinton County Com-missioner Jeff Snyder got pulled into it, too. Eric had called him up and challenged him to come.
"I've never done this before, so I wanted to do it," Jeff said of the plunge as he stood in a T-shirt and Hawaiian swimming trunks. "Plus, it's for a wonderful cause. So why not?"
Eric's team consisted of Jeff Snyder, Chad Harpster, Matt Selvage, Nic Kosierowski, MacMillen, Adam Murphy and Eric's son, James Ditty.
Eric emphasized he is a man of his word and wanted to be a good example for his son, who jumped with him.
Prior to the plunge, many were anticipating what the water would be like. While it was a warmer-than-usual day in the mid-60-degree range, the participants cast wary glances at the still-chilly waters.
"What, we don't even get a prep dip?" Nic half-joked.
After the fog horn blew, Eric's team dove first into the water. And because they raised double the amount planned, they took the plunge twice. When the team got out of the water the second time, everyone was shaking.
How was it?
"Cold," Jeff confirmed.
For that team's second plunge, local BethLynn Lowell, a former pastor, jumped with them. At 66, she thought she may have been the eldest plunger.
"I'm getting a double knee replacement soon, and I thought I should do this while I still can," she said with a grin.
She used to live in Maine and swim the ocean waters off the coast.
"So I should be good with this," she said.
While James said he was glad he jumped with his dad, his main description was, "I'm cold."
But Eric wasn't plunging in those waters just to support a good cause-he actually lives with MS and he proves that, like his T-shirts say, "I have MS, but it doesn't have me."
He proves this constantly by never letting MS win. He developed this autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system in 1995 when he was exposed to something when he was stationed with the U.S. Army in Germany. He lost 30 pounds of muscle mass in six months that year. It wasn't until 2008 that he was diagnosed.
While Eric is a 100-percent disabled veteran, he describes himself as a professional volunteer, such as with the V.A. office, Leadership Clinton County and more. He retired from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections as a drill instructor two years ago.
Every year, he runs in the 25K Hyner Challenge (this year on April 20).
He writes on his Facebook page, "I always enjoyed running, and after I found out I had M.S., I thought my running days were done. But one day, I decided I (would) not let M.S. get in the way of something I enjoy.
"Last year, I completed the Tough Mudder, a 12 1/2 mile course, along with a few 5k runs.
"I look funny like Gumby, but I am smiling and I finish, so I will keep doing them even though I am beat-down tired afterwards."
He describes his movements like Gumby after these races because muscle symptoms of M.S. can include loss of balance, spasms, numbness, and in general, difficulty moving one's arms and legs. Incredibly, he still powers through these challenges and always finishes the races.
His Polar Plunge team is also his running team for these races, and many of them are also disabled veterans, Eric said.
The plunge went from 1 to 3 p.m. and there were more than 40 participants who paid the $5 each to jump in the river. Brad Casper of Casper Custom Designs, Renovo, sold $200 worth of custom-made T-shirts for the event. County Treasurer Michelle Kunes was also at the event and volunteered to collect the checks. All funds went to the M.S. Society.
Lock Haven University students hosted the event, and those who jumped included the women's rugby, men's rugby, and softball teams, coaches and the public.
The LHU students who hosted the event dubbed it Freezing for a Reason as part of an Entrepreneurship class.