NEW YORK—A festive atmosphere trumped overcast skies and bitter wind as more than 1,500 plunged into the Atlantic Ocean at the Coney Island beach in the name of charity and getting ready for the new year.
Tracey Allred and Margaret Shrum said that going into the water helped rinse away last year and signaled rebirth for 2013.
Last Jan. 1 the sun warmed the swimmers during a mild winter.
This year, the 100th since the Coney Island Polar Bear Club started the tradition, swimmers exited the water and shivered.
“It’s colder getting out,” said Bill Mannix, “never that bad going in.” Mannix of Yonkers works for the city’s Sanitation Department and has been doing the plunge for 17 years.
He and his friend John Slanzi go to other places for the tradition, such as Loews, Del., and a lake in Rochester.
There’s no better way to start the day.
“There’s no better way to start the day,” said Mannix.
Families, friends, and neighbors crowded the beach at Coney Island, either rushing into the water after signing up or watching others swim.
With a camera around her dry neck, Hilary McHone surveyed the scene upon first arriving. “It’s so fun—it’s crazy—it makes you almost want to do it,” she said, laughing.
The number of people this year was more than ever, according to people like Mannix who have been coming for years and Nancy Cincotta, psychosocial director at Camp Sunshine. The annual event raises money for the camp. This year organizers also encouraged people to donate to Hurricane Sandy relief. The area was one of those hit hard by the late October storm.
Cincotta said organizers didn’t know what to expect with the dreary weather but were surprised to see a constant flow of people.
“It felt like people just kept coming,” she added. Swimmers signed up for one of six time slots starting at 1 p.m.
Camp Sunshine in Casco, Maine, serves as a retreat for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.
Swimmers formed teams on the fundraising site CrowdRise to raise money for the camp. It costs $2,000 for a child and their family to attend a week of the camp, where they are provided with counseling services and different activities. The fundraising goal was $30,000.
“The spirit of camp” was shown through the turnout, said Cincotta. Despite bad weather, people still showed up and had fun.
Jeff Yas, 42, and his family came out to swim. He said his initial reaction was “This isn’t as bad as I thought.”
Yas and his wife helped their son Jonah, 8, put on clothes.
For Jonah, the sensation was “burning, almost.”
“I’m glad we came,” said Yas. “It was worth it.”
Additional reporting by Deborah Yun
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