With spring less than three weeks away, the waters of the Great South Bay were icy, with remnants of winter’s snowfall still resting on the shore.
But the freezing temperatures proved to be no match for the approximately 150 participants of AHRC Suffolk’s annual Polar Bear Splash.
For Michael Johnson, 25, of Riverhead, Saturday’s event equaled a bucket-list item checked off.
“I’ve been waiting years to do it,” explained Johnson, “I’ll be alright. I’m going to run in and just run out.”
That was the strategy for many, but not all. Tyler Post, 16, of Mastic Beach, was the last participant to exit the water, tolerating the frigid cold temperature for several minutes. Post said last year he tolerated the water for 45 minutes.
Organizers say the Polar Bear Splash is a great way to get the community involved in a worthwhile cause. Despite this year’s bitter cold, participation was up from 2013.
“What we try to accomplish is to get high school kids involved. It’s really the youth generating the energy for the event,” explained J. Andreassi, director of development for AHRC Suffolk, which works to improve the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Sporting a sun-drenched tan, first-time plunger Sean Rose is used to summer water temperatures. Having recently returned from 80-degree weather in the Bahamas, Rose wondered whether the freezing waters would sting.
Rose, who is president of the AHRC Suffolk Foundation and president and CEO of Long Island-based beer distributor Clare Rose, believes participation is important.
“The AHRC is so important,” Rose said. “It changes lives and the quality of life for clients.”
“It’s a rush,” said second-year participant Adrienne Sauerland, 22, of West Islip. “Hold your breath, run in and pray that you don’t get hypothermia, then run to the hot chocolate cart.”