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Polar bear plungers take dip for charity in Nissequogue

Long Islanders plunge into the Long Island Sound

Long Islanders plunge into the Long Island Sound at Long Beach Town Park in Nissequogue at the 4th annual St. James Polar Bear Club Plunge on Sunday. The event raised $3,500, which was donated to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. (Jan. 20, 2013) Credit: Michael Cusanelli

The first time Reza Kolahifar decided to jump into the frigid water of the Long Island Sound in Nissequogue, he knew that he needed to make his winter dive a yearly tradition.

After he told his friends how much fun he and his family had splashing into the wintry water, he decided to begin hosting his own event to raise money for charity.

“There’s something exhilarating about being in that water, being cool, being cold,” said Kolahifar, 41, of St. James. “It’s indescribable.”

That was five years ago. And on Sunday, Kolahifar and 33 other brave Long Islanders kicked off the 4th annual St. James Polar Bear Plunge by diving into the chilly January waters of the Long Island Sound to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

Kolahifar chose to donate the money to diabetes research after his niece, Victoria, was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at age 9.

“I’ve been doing [this] since it started, it’s my fourth year,” said Michelle Cronk, 40, of Smithtown. “It’s an excellent cause. It’s a fun moment to get together with your friends.”

Although the yearly polar plunge began with just one family, the grassroots fundraiser now attracts several dozen Long Islanders each year to Nissequogue.

“There’s probably 10 of us who do [this] every year,” said Terry Motherway, 40, of Huntington. “It’s nice to see it grow.”

After taking off their winter coats and hats and stripping down to swim trunks and bikinis, this year’s divers plunged into the 30-degree water, screaming and laughing as members of the local fire departments watched from the beach.

“It’s for a good cause, so I’ll give it a try,” said Mike Gilmartin, 44, of Huntington. “It’s my first time.”

Even though the turnout to this year’s event was slightly lower than expected, the St. James Polar Bear Club raised $3,500 for diabetes research.

“My favorite part of the dive is knowing that I can do something good for children with diabetes,” said Kolahifar. “I’m hoping that no kids have to go through what she [my niece] did.”

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