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New Year gets a cool reception

January 02, 2002

New Year gets a cool reception



By DAN KULIN
dank@herald-mail.com


Chanting "USA, USA, USA," and following a shirtless man carrying an American flag, scores of so-called polar bears brought a patriotic feel to the 10th annual New Year's Day dip in the Potomac River.

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Patriotism and relatively mild conditions marked the swim at Riverbottom Park.

"Other than the river being frozen, it's kind of mild," said Todd Bowman, 39, of Williamsport, one of the original New Year's Day Potomac River swimmers.

There was a steady wind and the temperature was about 30 degrees above the water, which, under a thin layer of ice, was about 40 degrees.

The ice was about an inch thick in spots, and Bowman and some friends used a canoe, sledgehammer, digging irons and rakes to clear the ice from the boat ramp.

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Ice has been an obstacle for the New Year's waders three of the last four years.

Last year, a chainsaw was used to cut a 20-foot rectangle through ice that was about four inches thick. Temperatures on the first day of 2001 were in the low 20s, and the water was about 35 degrees.

"It was harder this year because we couldn't just jump in and jump out. We had to wade out," said Nicki Hartman, 20, of Clear Spring, who went for her second New Year's Day dunk Tuesday.

A small group of friends made the first New Year's run into the icy water in 1992. As the years have gone by, the number of participants has grown steadily.

Last year, about 30 people earned the polar bear nickname, chosen in honor of the animal that regularly swims in icy waters.

On Tuesday, Washington County Sheriff's Deputy Mark Hansberger estimated at least 400 people crowded the shore to watch the 60 or so polar bears run into the river.

"Every year, it gets bigger and bigger," said Steve Souders, 33, of Hagerstown, a longtime polar bear. "The first time, you just go for the challenge. After that, it becomes a tradition."

The crowd of spectators also has grown, and many brought cameras and video recorders to catch friends and family making the run.

"I think he's very brave, but I wouldn't do it," said Betty Moss, 37, of Hagerstown, who was there to watch her husband, Joe, go into the river. "I wouldn't do it, there's no way. I don't like cold water, even in the shower."

Kelly Logsdon said "it's great" her husband and sons were taking their first New Year's swim, but she wasn't. She was the official picture taker and towel holder.

Her husband, Mark, explained they were doing it because, "The family that jumps together sticks together."

His son Jarrett, 13, who wore an Osama bin Laden costume before going in the river, gave a different reason.

"Because it's crazy," he said.

As the first noon of 2002 approached, the boat ramp became crowded with people in shoes, shorts and little or nothing else.

They chanted "USA, USA, USA," before the final countdown and then made the mad dash into the river.

Screams, cheers and laughter filled the air.

"Very exhilarating," Mark Logsdon said.

"Cold," said a shivering Jarrett, who shed most of his bin Laden costume and unveiled his British flag swimsuit.

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