Kevin Kitchnefsky was probably about halfway between the beach and a Hawaii condo when his Facebook started to blow up with videos of people jumping into assorted ponds and lakes.
“This is Cold Water Challenge 2014!” a person in each video would shout, just before plunging into water as cold as 40 degrees.
Before he knew what was happening, more than 100 people had participated in the viral sensation and donated to the Kitchnefsky Foundation for Spinal Chord Research.
“I would never believe it in a million years, that this could happen,” Kitchnefsky said.
The back-story behind the ‘fundraiser’ is a bit murky.
“I just want to say that this is for the Kitchnefsky Foundation and, Kevin, when you get back, I’ll hook up with you and get a donation out for you,” said Eddie Schwarztrauber, who works at Tunkhannock Auto Mart and was one of the first to take the plunge for Kitchnefsky.
The challenge itself took off sometime in mid-March, with participants being nominated to showcase their bravery in celebration of spring.
Essentially, if you’re challenged to make the plunge, you have to. Once you do, you get to challenge three people.
The only requirements are that participants post a video of the jump on their Facebook and ‘tag’ the three people they chose to challenge.
Somewhere along the line, people in the area began to jump for a cause, donating funds to different non-profits.
Although there’s some debate to who the first challenger was, most people generally agree it was Judy Severcool Smith who lives in Missouri.
Smith challenged Kevin’s aide Alice Robets, her sister, and it took off.
According to Kitchnefsky, the challenge urged participants to plunge and donate $20 or choose not to plunge and donate $100.
“I personally can’t thank each and every one of them that has done it enough,” Kitchnefsky said. “This will bring more money into the local area.”
Kitchnefsky started his foundation when an accident left him paralyzed from the waist down, and now funnels a large portion of funds raised straight to spinal chord research.
That research, he feels, is closer and closer to being the key to helping him and spinal cord injury victims across the world walk again.
“Knowing that there’s so many supporters behind me doing this for the cause that I have – with the ongoing research, I think it’s going to be curable within the very near future,” Kitchnefsky said.
The remainder, which equates to roughly 30 percent of funds raised, is given back to the community in the form of assistance to spinal cord injury victims.
Primarily, the foundation functions to provide financial relief to accident victims who are over-burdened by high medical bills.
Usually this comes in the form of a wheelchair, a wheelchair ramp, or other home make-over projects to assist the recently-disabled.
As for the Cold Water Challenge, donations are slowing as the weather warms, but next spring will be here before too long.
The ‘flash’ fundraiser could be an annual event if it’s fresh enough in people’s memories when 2015 rolls around, but according to Kitchnefsky, some people have already been considering higher stakes and a tougher challenge.
“One person told me we should do a Polar Bear Plunge next year,” Kitchnefsky said, “but I said there’s no way I can ask people to do that. I don’t even think I could do that!”
To get a glimpse of all the action over the last several months, visit Kitchnefsky’s Facebook page or the Facebook page of the Kitchnefsky Foundation.
For more information on the foundation, call Kitchnefsky at 570-499-1707 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.