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About 100 swimmers hit chilly Potomac River for annual Polar Bear Plunge

January 01, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

WILLIAMSPORT ? A friendly wager 10 years ago between George Baker and Brent Taylor of Hagerstown likely will plunge into 2009 ? "polar bear" style.

Baker, 76, and Taylor, 43, on Tuesday were among about 100 people who took part in the annual Polar Bear Plunge at River Bottom Park in Williamsport.

Their bet, made after drinking a few beers, will continue on until one of them quits, they said.

A steady cold wind and a water temperature of about 40 degrees at noon on Tuesday didn't deter them from joining the throng of swimsuit and costumed people who went into the river in waves and got out of the water just as quickly as they plunged in.

"I'm freezing ... the wind ... it's exhilarating," Shellie Leedham of Greencastle, Pa., declared after retreating from the river with her daughter, Constance, 10.

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"We're trying to make this a tradition," Leedham said.

Presented by the Williamsport Polar Bear Club, the event raises money for The Humane Society of Washington County.

Glen Senkowski, formerly of Cocoa Beach, Fla., was awarded a number of prizes, including a stuffed polar bear, for collecting the most pledges of support (at least $340) for his first-ever plunge.

"It's just like pins and needles," Senkowski said of the experience.

A Michigan native, Senkowski said he relocated to Hagerstown in August 2007 for work-related reasons and enlisted the support of people back in Florida for his plunge.

"I just feel so bad for the animals," Senkowski said.

Greg Brown of Hagerstown joined fellow members of the Williamsport chapter of the Harley Owners Group for the Plunge.

"We got married," announced Brown, who donned a large styrofoam blonde wig and a full-length silver gown for a spoof marriage ceremony to fellow H.O.G. member Mike Beard before the plunge.

Brown said they took the plunge into the river "skipping and hold hands ... just like a happy married couple would."

"I flashed everyone by accident," Brown said, smiling through glossy red lips.

Katherine Cooker, the Humane Society's manager of development and public relations, hoped the increasingly popular event would top previous fundraising tallies that reached $5,000 or more.

Cooker estimated at least 200 people attended the event, which she said has grown exponentially and included spectators from vehicles traveling across the U.S. 11 bridge.

"It's a wonderful way to help out," Cooker said.

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