Leah Kisselbrack: Keep Swimming

For the third year, Leah Kisselbrack is raising money for local food banks with the Polar Plunge. Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier

Growing up in Chester, Leah Kisselbrack swam all summer in Cedar Lake. On Sunday, November 6, Leah will be in the lake again, but the water will be at a different temperature. This is why the event is called the Polar Plunge.

Whatever the temperature, Léa will take the leap.

“It makes no difference,” she said. “I’m going to start. »

This is the third year of the Polar Plunge, an event designed not for an invigorating swim, but to raise money for local food banks.

The Polar Plunge has grown every year, not just with individual divers, but with the participation of local corporate teams. Many participants are costumed.

“They wear boas and tutus,” Leah says. Last year, Leah wore a superwoman outfit, although she hasn’t decided what she will wear this year.

Leah would like people who want to participate to contact her beforehand at her business, Leah’s Bella Vita, on Main Street in Deep River so she can organize groups to run together in the water. Contributions can also be made in person or by mail to the beauty salon.

In addition to the participants, Leah expects a large and enthusiastic crowd of spectators.

The first year, given concerns about COVID, the Polar Plunge itself was virtual. Leah posted a video of her dive on Facebook and encouraged others to do the same.

With matching contributions, this first year’s event raised some $12,500 for food programs in Deep River, Chester, Killingworth, Haddam, East Haddam and Middletown.

Last year the total was $17,000.

This year, Polar Plunge in Cedar Lake will feature something new: door prizes with merchandise donated by local businesses, including restaurant gift certificates, branded sunglasses and a private yoga class.

Last year, Leah’s husband, Patrick Fisher, kept coming and going to their house, bringing hot chocolate for an after-dive drink. This year, the cocoa is given as well as the portable toilets. Leah is still handling cookie donations.

Leah had the idea for the Polar Plunge at the start of the COVID pandemic when she saw images from across the country showing long lines for food banks.

“The lines of vehicles were crazy,” recalls Leah. “I thought our family was fine; we had food in the fridge and in the freezer, but so many people needed help, so I came up with the idea for the Polar Plunge.

Leah announced via Facebook that she would be jumping into Cedar Lake to raise money for food banks.

“I thought money was the best thing over food because then they could buy what they really needed,” Leah says.

Through Facebook posts, Leah received contributions from across the country, including many from her classmates at Valley Regional High School. Leah graduated from Valley Regional in 1999.

Although she’s owned her beauty salon, Leah’s Bella Vita, for 11 years, Leah didn’t start out as a hairstylist. She had planned to be a music teacher. She is a flautist and a graduate of Keene State College in New Hampshire. She taught flute privately and replaced music lessons at school, including long-term assignments.

When people learn what she majored in, she says, they often ask why she’s now a hairdresser.

“I never would have thought it was such a big leap [from music],” she says. “I love working with people and I love the arts, and I just thought I’d take it in a different direction.”

Being a hairdresser, says Leah, is more than doing your hair. “Getting your hair done is the easy part,” she says.

Leah has a t-shirt with a saying that she particularly understands.

“It’s something like the best therapist hairdresser, and the best is crossed out for the cheapest.” She explains that it’s no secret that people confide in hairdressers. “They know they can tell me things with confidence,” she says.

When she started the Polar Plunge three years ago, Leah wasn’t sure she would do it more than once. But the response every year encouraged her. Now she has a large black folder stuffed with documents relating to the event.

“I never imagined that in a million years it would have grown so big, but

the need to support our food insecure neighbors is not going anywhere, so neither am I,” she says. “I take it a year at a time, but I can already see the years go by.”

Polar diving

Sunday, Nov. 6 at 1 p.m.

Cedar Lake, Main Street West,


Cash or check contributions can be mailed or deposited at Leah’s business, Leah’s Bella Vita, 153B Main Street, Deep River, 06417. There is a slot in the door to deposit contributions when the beauty salon is firm.

Donations will be accepted on the day of the dive

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