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Lost cellphone prolongs Port Washington teen's polar plunge

Charlotte Lathrop, left, with friend Michaela Asaro, thrashed

Charlotte Lathrop, left, with friend Michaela Asaro, thrashed through the water in search of her cellphone at the polar bear plunge at Hempstead Harbor in Port Washington in 2014. As emergency officials and onlookers shouted for her to leave the dangerously cold waters, Lathrop said through chattering teeth that she had to find her phone. Turns out a Newsday photographer clad in a wetsuit found the phone, which was protected by a waterproof case -- and yes, Lathrop said it was still working. Credit: Tara Conry

Charlotte Lathrop didn’t plan on outlasting “Captain America” and the hundreds of other polar plungers who charged into Hempstead Harbor in Port Washington Saturday afternoon. But the 17-year-old Port Washington resident found herself lingering in the 30-degree water after everyone else had retreated to the beach because she lost a very important item.

Her cellphone.

“When I first hit the water, my phone flew out of my hands,” said Lathrop, her teeth chattering from the chilly conditions. She had been snapping photos with the phone to document the plunge, her second one.

Emergency officials, some stationed in the water and others on land, ordered Lathrop to exit the water, saying it was too cold for her to stay in. She said she tried to tell them she was searching for her phone, but the frigid water hampered her ability to speak, and only gibberish came out.

“I almost started to cry,” she added.

But a Newsday photographer clad in a wetsuit found the phone, which was protected by a waterproof case, and yes, Lathrop said it was still working.

This was the 10th consecutive year that the Town of North Hempstead has hosted the Freezin’ for a Reason Polar Plunge with Special Olympics New York, and organizers said Saturday’s event was definitely one of the coldest.

“Our plungers are used to 45-degree temperatures … so people are definitely getting the real feel for what a polar plunge is,” said Diane Colonna, regional director of the Long Island division of Special Olympics New York.

Colonna said last year’s plunge in Port Washington drew about 600 participants and raised roughly $100,000 for the Special Olympics. She expected similar figures for this year’s event. Since Special Olympics doesn’t charge its athletes, the funds raised cover costs associated with training and competition year-round, she said.

The conditions were a drastic change from what Hofstra University tennis players Ari Richman, 20, of Phoenix, Ariz., and Beau Wills, 22, of New Zealand, are used to back home. They came Saturday with a contingent of 20 student-athletes.

“I thought I’d be seen as tough if I did it,” Wills said. “But I’m probably going to cry.”

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