400 take Polar Bear Plunge in Williamsport

Participants raised money for the Humane Society of Washington County

January 08, 2013|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |
  • Brave participants of the annual Humane Society of Washington County's Polar Bear Plunge enter and exit the cold water on Tuesday, New Years Day, at River Bottom Park in Williamsport.
By Yvette May, Staff Photographer

WILLIAMSPORT — About 400 people rushed into the Potomac River for the Polar Bear Plunge in Williamsport on Tuesday and then rushed back out, shrieking and shivering.

Though dripping wet in a white polar bear costume, Dusty Hancock of Hagerstown, was still smiling.

“Actually, I’m feeling better now - I’m numb,” Hancock said.

The river water temperature  at snow-covered River Bottom Park was about 33 degrees. The air temperature was a little warmer.

Hancock said he and his wife, Torri, who dressed as an Eskimo for the annual New Year’s Day rite, wanted to do something for the New Year, so they decided to join in the revelry at the boat ramp.

Hosted by the town of Williamsport, the Humane Society of Washington County and the Williamsport Polar Bear Club, the 10th installment of the charitable event attracted people of all ages who became members of Polar Bear Club for participating.


72-year-old Roderick "Hack" Woltman was recognized by organizers as the oldest participant. Dot Foods in Williamsport, Md., was awarded the traveling trophy for fielding the largest group — 22 people.

And Humane Society board treasurer K. Sue Wright was recognized for raising the most of any individual who registered for the event, which raised about $16,000 last year.

Tuesday’s plunge also included the launch of 260 green and white balloons in memory of the victims in the Newtown, Conn. shooting.

Wright’s husband, Gary, said “friends” agreed to donate on the condition that she take the “plunge.” Some wanted video evidence, proof that she did it, he said.

“I don’t even know why I said ‘yes’,” Sue Wright said before going into the river. “I don’t like being cold.”

Dressed in her 4-year-old daughter’s tutu and butterfly wings on her back, Tara Nunes of Hagerstown, took part in the event for the first time in memory of her husband, Helder Nunes who died of a heart attack in August. He was 33. Nunes and about 10 or 11 others, including her son, formed a team dubbed, “Helder’s Polar Bears.”

“We figured this was a good reason to do it,” Nunes said. “He would want us to do this.”

Board president Shannon Cianelli lauded the efforts of Ben Cross for coordinating the event, which she said offers the community an opportunity to celebrate the New Year and “let loose.”

Wet and shivering after leaving the river, Gerard Haupt of Boonsboro said he succumbed to “peer pressure” and plunged with Tim Cool of Hagerstown for the first time.

“This is fun, this is crazy,” Haupt said. 

Dot Foods human resources manager Terri Scott said the company’s participation also was a first, but expects they will return next year to try to hold onto the largest group trophy they won.

“That’s going to be our goal,” Scott said.

Among the dozens of spectators on hand, Julie Slusarz of Hagerstown, admitted she doesn’t have a good reason not to take part in the Polar Bear Plunge.

Slusarz said she came out to support her friends who collected petition signatures in support of building a dog park in Hagerstown at this year’s event.

“Every year I say I’m thinking about it - I just need to do it,” Slusarz said laughing.

Wright, who aided by her husband’s email campaign, raised about $4,500 for the Humane Society, agreed that her first, and last, plunge Tuesday could serve a challenge for a board member to participate next year.

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