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Northport polar bears take plunge for charity

Participants in the Northport Polar Bear Plunge jump

Participants in the Northport Polar Bear Plunge jump into the waters off of Steers Beach in Northport. The plunge was a benefit for the community's food pantry. (Jan. 1, 2013) Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

Fourteen-year-old Zach Mina was suffering from a sinus infection and his father wasn't feeling much better. But his mother, Ellen, knew she could not keep him -- and his father, Joe -- away from plunging into the icy waters of Northport Bay on New Year's Day.

So the West Islip family joined dozens of others for the fourth annual Boy Scout Troop 410 and Northport Fire Department polar bear swim.

"This is our new family tradition," said Ellen Mina, the family's official photographer.

Keeping family traditions and cleaning slates for the New Year were some of the reasons people gave for taking the plunge. But they also came out because the event raised funds for the Northport food pantry.

At just before noon, the crowd stood on the edge of Steers Beach, many wrapped in sweaters, jackets and robes that they would soon peel off to run into the water.

The Minas posed for a picture, Zach anticipating the cold afterward. "I'm gonna want a jacket when I get out."

Jackie Newton, 31, of Northport, a newbie to polar beach swims, with her mother-in-law, Deb Newton, and two others, stood on the beach dressed in white robes. Jackie Newton said she decided to swim because of "peer pressure . . . and honestly because I think it is fun," she said, adding that it also goes to a good cause.

She said that she planned to dunk all the way under water. "If you're going to do it, you really got to do it."

The crowd went running toward the bay once the signal was given. Many ran into the water, then sprinted out, their bodies shocked from the 37 degree water. But Nicole Schafer, 12, of Northport, was in no rush. Her family stood on the shore watching in disbelief as she stayed in for more than four minutes.

Schafer was ordered out by a woman wearing a Northport rescue jacket. Schafer's teeth chattered and she could barely speak as her mother wrapped her in a towel. She said she stayed in because she wanted to be the last one in the water.

This year, about 200 people participated, about the same as last year. The troop raised about $2,700 and donations are still coming in, said Jim Garvey, assistant scoutmaster.

After the plunge, Zach Mina warmed up and had a pit stop to make. His parents were taking him to a walk-in clinic to get his sinus infection checked out.

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