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'Polar bears' take plunge into Potomac

January 02, 1999|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

WILLIAMSPORT - A layer of ice over the Potomac River and a biting wind couldn't stop the "polar bears" from their annual New Year's Day dip.

"It was excellent," said 35-year-old Hagerstown resident Dan Powers, dripping wet after his first ice-cold swim.

Powers was one of 25 people to earn the polar bear nickname Friday by running into the river at Willaimsport.

"I work in a freezer where it's 24 degrees below zero so I figured I could do this.

"It was a little warmer," he said about the water temperature compared to the freezer at DOT Foods Inc. in Williamsport.

About a mile up river at the R.C. Willson Water Treatment Plant the water was about 36 degrees, and there was no ice on the water. The air temperature was in the low 30s.

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At the boat ramp at River Bottom Park the water was probably a few degrees colder. A sheet of ice stretched across the river.

Some dedicated winter swimmers broke up the ice early Friday, in preparation for the eighth annual winter plunge, which is open to anyone who shows up.

By 11:30 a.m. more than 100 cars had filled the parking lot and shoreline near the boat ramp.

Onlookers easily outnumbered their shorts- and towel-wearing friends and relatives, whose sanity they questioned.

As noon approached a black hearse backed up to the boat ramp and let out a band of costumed swimmers - including one dressed as Father Time carrying Baby New Year on his back who led the charge into the river.

Only three of the swimmers were women, and most of the men who took the plunge seemed to be in their 30s and 40s.

"We dare to be different," said John Waltrick, who has made the New Year's Day swim since 1992. "We bring in the New Year in a new way."

Waltrick, 42, of Hagerstown said it was only the second time the "polar bears" have been confronted with an ice-covered river.

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