Operation VEST’s Second Annual ‘Run and Plunge’ occurred on Saturday, January 21, at Walker Beach in the Village of Brightwaters.
Stefan Hespeler and Jenny Mortenson Hespeler co-Founded Operation VEST to eradicate Veteran suicides one at a time by addressing the different needs of the Veteran population, hence the name: Veterans Eradicating Suicide Together. They aim to create awareness and remove the stigma surrounding mental health to effectuate positive change in the Veteran Community.
Runners, walkers and joggers from all across the region braved the cold for a 2.2-mile course to raise money and awareness for the organization.
Shortly after, some of the runners, along with a few brave souls, took a short dip in the Great South Bay for a polar plunge.
“We wanted to get some Veterans out and get some people engaging to let them know that this is a staggering statistic that we’re losing over 20 Veterans a day to suicide,” said event organizer Stefan Hespeler (pictured right with flag) immediately following the polar plunge. “The money that we raise we redistribute back into our local community through not-for-profits to help our Veterans with alternate means of coping with Post-Traumatic Stress.”
According to seatemperature.info, the water temperature at the time of the plunge was 43.9 degrees Fahrenheit. At the same time, the air temperature was between 37-42 degrees Fahrenheit.
Many participants could be overheard remarking that they felt warmer after emerging from the bay.
The event is reported to have raised $20,000 for various programs aimed at improving Veteran mental health.