The moment you met Donnie Jarrell, you had a friend for life.
For those who didn’t know Donnie, he was a fun-loving man. From time to time, he wore crazy apparel at road races and triathlons. He was a superb athlete, and he loved music. But beyond that, he was the kind of guy who’d finish a race and then run back out on the course to offer encouragement to others. He was a coach, a teacher and a family man.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, also became Donnie Jarrell’s disease. It claimed his 42-year-old body in 2005, but it will never take the spirit, life and love he shared with so many.
There are dozens of stories to tell, but here’s one that pretty much sums up Donnie’s approach to life. On New Year’s Day in 1990, Donnie went for a run with friends Shannon Allison, Fred Miller and Ron Franco. They set out from Mandeville and headed west toward Madisonville, but when they arrived at the Tchefuncte River, the bridge was out of service.
Undeterred, the foursome jumped into the cold, dark river, swam across and continued their run.
Now, 28 years later, the run (and swim) continues.
It’s called the Iceman Dip and Dash, and it will be held at 11 a.m. Jan. 1 starting at Franco’s Athletic Club. Participants will run to the river about 2 miles away, swim across the Tchefuncte and back, then run back to Franco’s. All told, the run is just more than 4 miles and the swim about 130 yards.
But as you might imagine, it’s not for the faint of heart. About 40 people took part this year, and a few of them got into the water, realized it averages about 55 degrees in January and quickly made a 180-degree turn back to shore. Only 160 people have completed the race in its entirety since it began.
The Iceman Dip and Dash benefits ALS nonprofits in the area, including the Donnie Jarrell Foundation. And you don’t have to compete to make a donation to the cause.
“Even though not many people take part every year because it can be challenging, the race really has become a tradition for us,” said Julie Hudson, the program and events director at Franco’s.
"It’s a big event that people look forward to. We had an 80-year-old man and his granddaughter do the last one, and she wants to do it again. Firefighters (from St. Tammany Parish Fire District No. 4) have come out each year for the past 10 years or so to participate, too. People look forward to it.”
Cost is $30 for Franco’s members to participate and $35 for nonmembers. Add an additional $5 if you sign up on race day. You must sign a release to join, and children and pets are not allowed to take part in the swim portion unless they are accompanied by parent/guardian/owner. Bayou Paddle Co. will provide paddle-board safety monitors in the Tchefuncte.
For those who don't want to run but want to help, Hudson said she’s seeking a few volunteers to hand out towels, serve food and drink at the club after the race, take pictures and more.
She added that if more people than usual register, organizers may split the field into two heats that start a few minutes apart, ensuring that too many people aren’t jumping into the river at once.
And as organizers tout -- the Iceman Dip and Dash will be held “rain, sleet, snow or shine!”
For more information or to register, call (985) 792-0200, email firstname.lastname@example.org or stop by the club, 100 Bon Temps Roulé in Mandeville.