A 12-year-old student from North Country Road Middle School in Miller Place raised over $5,000 for the Special Olympics. All that Robert Fitton had to do was jump into the near-freezing Long Island Sound at Cedar Beach last November.
That’s exactly what Fitton and his team of 16 middle school students did as part of the 6th annual Polar Plunge, a yearly tradition around the country where people sprint into freezing waters to raise money for various causes. Fitton was recognized and honored at the Miller Place School Board meeting last week, accompanied by his mother Concetta; father, Robert; sister, Mary; and brother, Thomas.
It was actually the third time that Fitton had taken the courageous dive into unfathomably cold water. In 2013, inspired by the birth of Thomas that July, Concetta Fitton convinced him to give it a try. Thomas was born with Down syndrome. Fitton said the idea to raise money for the Special Olympics was easy because Thomas might one day take part in the games. For now, Fitton see’s his younger brother as a budding football, wrestling or baseball star.
“You can always give back,” Fitton said. “It’s personal to me because he’s so cute. It was really supposed to be a fun thing at first, but it got more serious once it progressed. In general you can always give back.”
The harsh water temperature wasn’t enough to slow Fitton down after his first plunge in 2013.
“The first year was by far the worst,” Fitton said. “The day we did the plunge it was frigid. Last year was really cold, too. Once you get into that water you don’t really feel it.”
Fitton’s parents are proud of their son for turning the event into a yearly cause. Fitton told his dad in 2013 that he didn’t want him to join him in the freezing water because “I want to do this for my brother, I’m doing this myself,” according to the elder Robert.
“I never thought that he got what it was to tie it into the Special Olympics,” Concetta Fitton said about her son’s first plunge. “I didn’t think he put two and two together, but then he’s running into the water yelling ‘this is for Thomas,’” she said.
—Team “Extra” Ordinary—
Ella & Nathan Botticelli
Back then it was just Fitton and one of his cousins taking the plunge. However, inspired by the costumes and celebratory nature of the event, Fitton decided to approach the 2014 plunge from a leadership role. He registered a team and got together about eight friends, according to Concetta Fitton.
In 2015, the number of teammates Fitton lead doubled, and after hanging flyers, calling family and friends and posting on social media asking for sponsors.
The team calls themselves Team “Extra” Ordinary, a nod to Thomas and the extra chromosome associated with Down syndrome. The team also wears blue and yellow to each event, to represent the colors for Down Syndrome Awareness.
Fitton wanted to be clear that he did not accomplish this on his own. He said that without his teammates, he wouldn’t have come anywhere close to the $5,000 mark.
“We don’t do enough to recognize somebody that goes above and beyond,” North Country Road Principal Matt Clark said as he presented Fitton with his award at the board of education meeting. “This is well above and beyond in my opinion … with his leadership skills and his ability to facilitate a team, they did a fabulous job. I want to recognize Robert for his endeavor and his dedication to his brother as well.”
Clark added that he doubted this would be the last time that Robert would be acknowledged by the district for doing something admirable. His mother said that he felt guilty that his friends weren’t recognized for their efforts in raising the money at the meeting as well.
“You always want to think that your kids are awesome,” she said. “Just to know he’s doing this, taking the leadership role and doing this for his brother, it’s amazing … He’s a good kid and he’s doing this for a great cause. We’re extremely proud of him.”
Her husband agreed.
“I was very happy because, anytime you volunteer to give back to the community is very important, and the fact that he did it for my other son is extra special,” he said. “If you get them to do this at a young age hopefully they continue to do it and give back.”