It is a New Year tradition, so I read. Every year, on the first day of the year, members of the Polar Bear Club of Coney Island would go for a swim in the frigid water of Coney Island Beach. The event was always covered in the news. I would read about it and shake my head, thinking those people are crazy.
Perhaps it was a thing that comes with middle age, but starting in late 2010 I thought I should do something wild and crazy in the new year. Nothing too drastic that would involve physical injury or a brush with the law, but just something out of the ordinary. For New Year's Day 2011, I ran in the NYRR Emerald Nuts Midnight Run. In the past, I saw news report about the event and mistakenly thought that the race was for people to run from one year into another. Sorta like saying "See you next year" to someone a few days before the new year. In reality, the race started shortly after midnight, or in the case for the people stuck at the back, more like 5 or 10 minutes after the start of the new year. But still not to run from one year into another. Such was the wrong perception I had of the Midnight Run. By registering for the Polar Bear Plunge, I learned many things about the event, too.
The Polar Bear Plunge is open to the public although the Club strongly urges people to register and pledge to raise money for Camp Sunshine in Casco, Maine. The Camp is a place for children with life-threatening illnesses. There is a minimum of $100 to be raised. I am horrible at fundraising and in the past depended on TOTA to raise money for my participation in the March of Dimes. This time around thanks to Facebook I was able to raise $60 and will have to cover the rest with my own money but it's for a good cause.
Another thing I learned is that the Polar Bears do not only swim on New Year's Day but actually swim every Sunday during winter. It's a Club privilege and you would need to be a member. Definitely not something I would do regularly, but hey to each his own. There is even a competing club, that is, a different group that also do winter swimming.
On the day of the event, I learned that wristbands are provided for registrants and the bands are also good for admission to the nearby Aquarium. There was also a souvenir sweatshirt to be had as a token of appreciation. It was crowded and noisy so I might have misheard that minimum registration was $10 and the sweatshirt would only come with $20. The beach outside the bath house at Stillwell Avenue was cordoned off with yellow tapes to create a short runway for participants to rush into the water.
I got to Coney Island around 12:30 with my friend Julius, who agreed to help me with photographing the event for posterity. I owe him a big one for that. After registration, I posed for a few photos with message of thanks to my 3 sponsors, still wearing shirt and swimming trunk. Next I went down to the water to test its temperature. It was an unusually warm day for January but the water was still cold. Finally, after seeing how the runway was setup and where the participant should gather, off went the shirt and I posed for Julius' camera once more before joining my fellow crazy swimmer.
It was partly a costume party. There were people dressed up as 2012 New Year babies, with diapers and bonnets. There were two people dressed up as Jews and Arabs, sharing a sign that reads "Occupy Peace". Amen to that! Some guy was in a hotdog suit, another in a ketchup outfit, yet another in an ice cream cone. Your typical summertime or boardwalk food, get it? Both News 12 and NY1 local news stations were present. I secretly hoped I would have a few more seconds of fame, like when I was "featured" on News 12's report of the Christmas Marathon. I happened to be the only one in a full Santa suit so News 12 showed 4 seconds of just me running, fake beard flying to the side. No such luck with the Plunge. The camera went mostly to those with costumes or visibly different than the rest.
After a short wait, it was time for the Plunge! Off we went, I splashed around a bit, hunkered down, a few times, to get water up to my neck and be thoroughly wet from the neck down, then got off the water to find Julius. Unfortunately, Julius could not find a good spot so there was no photos of me in the water, but at least we got a shot of me after I got out. I think it is clear from the photo that my swimming trunk was wet. I most likely will not do it again, not because I am afraid of cold water, but it was still a great, and crazy-fun, thing to do!
|Hi Heather! My Wordscraper friend Heather was the first to donate to my effort.|
|The water was brrrr cold!|
|A New Year baby, a Hasidic Jew, plus other costumed people that I did not captured in photos.|
|It was a warm and sunny day.|
|Fresh out of the water. It was over, for this year!|