Polar Bear Club chills out in Potomac

January 02, 1997


Staff Writer

WILLIAMSPORT -- There's something to be said for plunging into 43-degree water in January.

That something was on the lips of about 30 spectators Wednesday as they watched 16 men take their annual New Year's Day plunge into the Potomac River at noon.

Why would you ever want to do that?

"It's symbolic. It washes off last year's dirt and gets you ready for this year," said John Waltrick of Hagerstown, who co-founded the Hagers-town/Williamsport Polar Bear Club six years ago.

It was little comfort to the already shivering jumpers to know that the water was actually 11 degrees warmer than the New Year Day air temperature of 32 degrees, according to an employee at the R.C. Wilson Water Treatment Plant in Williamsport.


The steady breeze made it feel even colder.

"Yeah, this is a biting little breeze," Waltrick said, who lit another cigarette and hugged his white terrycloth bathrobe closer to him.

A group of carpenters who work together dared each other to take the plunge this year. For some, it was the first time.

"They talked me into it," said Dave Mowery of Hagerstown, pointing to his scantily-dressed friends in bathing suits and cutoff shorts.

Each Polar Bear had their own way of getting ready for the impending event. Some walked to the river's edge and tested the water. Others waited in their heated vehicles until the last minute. A few jogged in place, swinging their arms around. Most had a plunge plan.

"I don't stop for nothing," said Leonard Ridgely of Hagerstown. "I look like a rocket going in and coming out."

As the seconds ticked away, the Polar Bears and spectators counted down from 10 before the group ran into the river about 15 feet, most of them totally submerging themselves. As quick as they went in, they turned around and ran out with shouts, whoops and screams.

"That was exhilarating," yelled Ridgely, as he shook his head and reached for a towel.

Most of the Polar Bears kept running, dripping wet, right back to their vehicles where towels and a change of clothes awaited them.

Walter Patey of Williamsport, who plunged for the third time, actually lingered in the water a few seconds longer than the rest and was the last one to come out.

"I feel comfortable," Patey said, even though he stood shivering and his skin crawled with goosebumps.

"I'll do this every year until I need a cane to get in and out," he said.

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