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Coopers Beach polar plunge marks 11th year of success for Southampton nonprofit

Hundreds take part in the 11th annual Polar

Hundreds take part in the 11th annual Polar Bear Plunge at Coopers Beach in Southampton to benefit Human Resources for the Hamptons. Photo Credit: Amy Onorato

Gary Glanz of Sag Harbor is no stranger to polar plunges. Glanz, 61, took his first icy plunge with a group of friends in 1970, when he was a junior at Southampton High School.

“We went swimming on Christmas Day,” Glanz said. “At first, it was just for attention, we wanted our pictures in the yearbook. But we came back and did it again senior year, and it was something that caught on for us.”

In 2003, Glanz took the idea of a polar plunge to the Human Resources of the Hamptons, a nonprofit that provides food, clothing and emergency services to those in need in Southampton. With Glanz at the helm of the event, HRH’s first annual polar plunge at Coopers Beach raised about $50,000.

“I saw people doing things like this to raise money in Maryland and in Minnesota, where the water can be so much colder,” Glanz said. “I knew we could do a plunge, and I knew we would be successful.”

On Saturday morning, the plunge celebrated its 11th year, attracting hundreds of participants willing to take a quick dip in the cold water. For a few hours, Coopers Beach was filled with plungers of all ages, wrapped in blankets and towels trying to stay warm. Some, such as Southampton Mayor Mark Epley and his family, even dressed in costume.

“We do group costumes every year, we try to get creative,” said Epley, who was dressed as the Tin Man to match his family’s Wizard of Oz theme. “Last year we dressed up as members of the band Kiss.”

With the air temperature hovering at about 39 degrees, and the water at a warmer 47, it was colder getting out of the water for some than it was getting in.

“I didn’t mind it so much running in there,” said plunger Judith Pfister, 55, of Southampton, as she stood on the shore soaking wet. “But now that I’m out in the air, I’m freezing!”

But for Jimmy Mack, a dedicated plunger who attends the event every year dressed head-to-toe as a mermaid, this plunge was smooth sailing.

“It snowed last year, and we still went in,” Mack said. “It was actually surprisingly nice this time.”

According to HRH executive director Kerry Lewendoski, the nonprofit this year anticipates breaking the $1 million mark in total money raised from the event since it started 11 years ago.

“It’s like a big party, everyone’s out, everyone’s in a good mood,” Lewendoski said. “They’re having a good time, but they’re also here to make a difference, and to benefit the community. It really is a huge thing for us.”

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