NEW YORK—Clear sunny sky, mild wind, and temperatures just above the freezing point—ideal conditions for a dip in the Atlantic Ocean. That is, if one is a polar bear. Or perhaps part of some 2,000 hardy fellows that participated in the annual Polar Bear Club New Year’s Day Swim on Coney Island Thursday afternoon.
Arty Tsismekis, 44, belongs to the second category. Just an hour before the event he decided to go for it. Just to “do something crazy for the year,” he said.
The 42-degrees water felt icy cold, but still warmer than the air. Tsismekis acknowledged he was a bit scared to thrust himself into the waves. “You can’t think about it. That’s what I tried to do,” he said. “I just ran.”
The New Year’s swim comes every year since 1903. Ian Maher, 42, knew about it for years, but this time he rallied up a couple of friends on New Year’s Eve through Facebook. “It feels good,” he said, sharing his first impression.
Maher grew up in New Hampshire and was used to swimming in very cold water. “This is fine,” he said in a nonchalant tone.
His three companions shared the sentiment. “It’s really cold. It feels good,” said Julie Chen, 37. She had done a January swim before—with a couple of friends for fun. This was her first on the New Year. “Cold water doesn’t really bother me,” she said. “I like it.”
“This has been a long life’s dream of mine. I did it!” said Evelyn Rodriguez, 40, another member of the company. All from Brooklyn, the group agreed to swim again next year.
Freezin’ for a Reason
The Polar Bear Club, with 150 active members, holds dips in the ocean every Sunday from November to April.
But the New Year’s one is not just for fun, toughening up, or a daredevil spirit. Participants are encouraged to donate to the Camp Sunshine, a non-profit holding support camps at Lake Sebago for children with life-threatening illnesses.
Similar New Year’s swims were held at eight other locations, including New Jersey, Virginia, and Long Island, all fundraising for Camp Sunshine under the banner of “Freezin’ for a Reason.”
The Polar Bear Club managed to raise over $75,000 this time, according to Tom McGann, one of the organizers.
And, as one of the emergency medical workers on site confirmed, the bone-chilling yet heart-warming event concluded without any injury or health incident.