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Taking the plunge

Thousands raised for Washington County Humane Society in Polar Bear Plunge event

Thousands raised for Washington County Humane Society in Polar Bear Plunge event

January 02, 2006|by CANDICE BOSLEY

WILLIAMSPORT

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

Wonder Woman was a man whose long black wig stayed in place.

Batman was a woman who wore a mask and a skimpy bikini.

Santa Claus gave out candy to children before diving headfirst in the Potomac River still wearing his red suit, hat and black boots.

Most of the 150 or so people who took part in The Polar Bear Plunge at River Bottom Park in Williamsport on Sunday wore nothing more exciting than bathing suits, shorts and T-shirts, but those who donned costumes made it memorable.

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"It's fun. Everybody's dressed up. It's just crazy," said second-time plunger Samantha Ebersole, 13.

Other costumes included a man wearing an inflatable sumo wrestler outfit, men dressed as Washington Redskins Hogettes and a man whose getup included a foam flamingo hat, a lei, a floral print shirt and swimming trunks, and a grass skirt.

The annual event is a fundraiser for the Washington County Humane Society, which sold T-shirts and towels for $25 each.

Cindy Kalkbrenner, director of development and community relations for the humane society, said 46 of 50 towels were sold and all 50 T-shirts were sold, with orders placed for more.

Coffee, hot chocolate, doughnuts and muffins were available free to those who went into the river, and to others for a donation.

Kalkbrenner estimated nearly $4,000 was raised.

Next year, she said, there's talk that bleachers will be set up for onlookers, and parking will be coordinated. Traffic was backed up for more than half an hour after the event, apparently because cars parked in the road leading to the park.

Along with the more than 100 people who went into the water, as many or more stood on the banks and in the beds of pickup trucks watching.

Two men in a boat were in the middle of the river, snapping photographs as the waders headed into the water.

A countdown preceded the plunge at noon.

When people hit the water, screams of being quickly immersed in near-freezing water replaced shouts of enthusiasm.

Some people went in only to their knees. Others dove under the water. A few splashed water onto their friends.

A Williamsport Fire Department ambulance and rescue sport utility vehicle were on hand at the park, but fire department members reported no problems.

Buck Artz, 56, was the man in the Wonder Woman costume.

"I come up with a different one each year," said Artz, who went in the river for the sixth year.

He said he and a group of friends - including the man in the sumo wrestler outfit - get together to do the plunge.

Artz, of Williamsport, might just be a friend of frigidity; he participates in two other polar bear plunges a year for Special Olympics fundraisers.

Todd Bowman co-founded the event 15 years ago as part of a bet that involved alcohol, a bar and a New Year's Eve celebration. He was the man dressed as Santa Claus.

"Hopefully, we'll have a good turnout. It's too warm, though," he said before heading into the river.

The air temperature at noon was 41 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

Charles Brining, 66, of Hagerstown, was making his first plunge.

While some ran quickly in and out, Brining estimated he stayed in the river for around a minute.

"It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be," Brining said as he dried himself off with a humane society towel. "The weather feels warmer out here (after being in the water)."

Brining said he's considered doing the plunge for years, but decided to do it in 2006.

"I told him it was his New Year's present," said his wife, Lee Brining.

Lee Brining stood on the riverbank during the plunge, trying to snap a photograph of her husband and holding his towel.

Asked why she didn't head into the water, she responded with a disarming head-to-toe look, followed by a jovial smile and laugh.

"I don't go in in the summertime," she said.

Paul Miller, executive director of the humane society, participated for the fourth time.

"I'd rather have a colder air temperature so it's not such a shock when you get to the water," he said.

Williamsport Town Councilman Jeffrey Cline stood on the bank.

"I'm down here to show support. What a great Williamsport tradition," he said.

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