Long Island braves icy waters for a cause
How about an outdoor swim this winter?
No toe dipping, please. The whole dare of a Polar Plunge is to immerse the entire body in the icy waters.
But the pain, the numb toes, the chattering teeth -- are always for a good cause. All the events raise money for charity.
"Freezin' for a Reason" is the slogan for Special Olympics, which hosts plunges such as last month's at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai as well as one in March in Roslyn.
"It's a winter festival," says Kristine Aquilone, of the LI Region of Special Olympics New York.
While it may seem insane to jump into a 35-degree ocean when the air is that cold or colder, Long Islanders flock to the events like ducks to water.
"We had close to 200 participants last year," says Barry Diemer, who helps run the plunge for The Blue Point-Bayport Lions Club. "We throw out beach balls for the kids, and have Beach Boys music playing," along with snacks and hot cocoa.
In Long Beach, where the party has gone on for 12 years on Super Bowl Sunday, there's a DJ and dancing, too.
Pete Meyers started the Long Beach Polar Bear Plunge, Long Island's most successful, on a whim in 1998, when he and his friend Kevin McCarthy jumped in on Super Bowl Sunday. Two years later, friends Mike and Patti Bradley asked them if they would turn the event into a fundraiser for Make-a-Wish in honor of their son, Paulie, who died of cancer at age 4 before his wish could be granted. About 2,000 people plunged last year, and after the next Super Bowl, Meyers estimates more than $4 million will have been raised.
TIPS FROM A PRO
What does it feel like to jump into icy waters? Oddly, it depends mostly on the air temperature, veteran plungers say.
"The wind is brutal, and that is equally bad," says Terry Motherway, 41, of Huntington. Motherway has done it four times for the St. James Polar Bear Plunge. He recommends wearing shoes for protection from the cold beach, and tells first-timers they will most likely gasp as the cold water hits their chest and their lungs take in air.
At the end, make sure to dry off and change into warm clothes as soon as possible, he says. Wear a hat, too.
The big worry for plungers could be cardiac conditions and hypothermia, says Dr. Peter Viccellio, clinical director for the emergency department at Stony Brook University Hospital.
"When you jump into the water, the heart slows," he says. Very rarely is it dangerously slow, he adds, but those with coronary disease should beware.
As for hypothermia, the doctor notes that cold water will make one lose heat 25 times faster than cold air. He also suggests getting out, drying off and changing into warm clothes as soon as possible.
Also, stay close to shore so that if your muscles tense up, you can get out quickly. "Have fun doing this, but don't stray very far from shore," he says.
UPCOMING POLAR PLUNGES
Steers Beach, Eaton's Neck Road, Northport, 11 a.m. registration ($5), noon plunge; t410northportny.org
Sponsored by Northport Boy Scout Troop 410 and the Northport Fire Department's Junior Club, Smokeaters, the event raised $4,300 last year for Northport's Ecumenical Lay Council's food pantry.
10 a.m., Long Beach State Park Beach, Nisseqogue; 631-949-8184, stjamespolarbearclub.org
Fifth annual St. James Polar Bear Club Plunge. Donations to support Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Minimum donation of $100.
11 a.m. registration; DJ at noon and plunge at 1:30 p.m., Super Bowl Sunday, Riverside Boulevard Beach, Long Beach; longbeachpolarbears.org
Hosted by Long Beach Polar Bears to benefit Make-a-Wish Foundation. No minimum donation required.
Saturday, March 1, North Hempstead Beach Park, West Shore Road, Rosyln, 10 a.m. registration, plunge at noon; 631-254-1465, nyso.org
"Freezin' for a Reason" donations go to LI Regional Special Olympics. No minimum donation required.
Corey Beach, Middle Road and Atlantic Avenue, Blue Point, 9:30 a.m. registration, 11 a.m. plunge; 631-363-5958, bluepoint.org
Third Annual "April Fools Polar Bear Plunge" organized by the Lions Club supports the Guide Dog Foundation of Smithtown. Preregistration $15, day of registration $20, includes T-shirt.