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Polar Bear Dip draws record turnout

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ALEXANDRIA BAY — Taking a plunge into frigid, 30-degree water isn’t an easy feat.

But the crowd of people encircling the docks to cheer on participants at Bonnie Castle Resort for the 22nd annual Polar Bear Dip on Saturday made taking the plunge seem simple.

Dressed in costumes that included everything from ballerinas to mimes and superheroes, a record-breaking 189 participants revved up the crowd by leaping into the water while a panel of judges on the dockside rated their performances. Party songs such as “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees blared over the loudspeakers, making it fun to get a little bit crazy.

The dip is the main fundraiser for the River Hospital Foundation. The hospital will use the proceeds to purchase equipment for its radiology department, including ultrasound and digital mammography equipment.

“The water was freezing,” said Carly A. Semrau of Rochester, who stood in the lodge with a towel draped over her shoulders after making the jump. She and a group of nine friends dressed in pink winter hats and held large signs with capital letters spelling out phrases for the crowd: “GET EM DONE” and “MAMMOGRAPHY.”

“We did it to pay tribute to the hospital,” she said.

Even though the bay wasn’t frozen this year — a rare occurrence — Ms. Semrau said the water felt colder than it did two years ago, when the group dressed as penguins. Jumpers were able to hop into a hot tub just outside the plunge area, though, to help get their blood flowing again.

“This gets everyone in the community together to raise money for a good cause,” she said, adding that the group raised more than $2,200 this year.

Asked why he didn’t jump, Ms. Semrau’s boyfriend, Aric C. Heath, made a list of unconvincing excuses.

“She’s got more cojones than I do,” he conceded.

The event continues to grow in popularity every year, said Marsha M. Graves, a nurse at River Hospital who attended for the 11th year. She said people have come from as far away as Florida to enjoy the fun and help the cause.

“This is the biggest polar dip this side of the Mississippi River,” she said, adding it was the first time spectators were able to watch the action from boats on the open water.

Scott C. Dicount of Lyme, who watched the event for the first time, brought his golden retriever, Joe, to socialize with people. He pointed out that you don’t need to be brave and bare-chested to have a good time.

“These are a bunch of crazy people here,” he said after watching a young woman dressed in a bikini and 6-inch heels jump off the dock, drawing a round of applause.

Based on Saturday’s record turnout, which topped last year by 49 participants, the event is also expected to beat last year’s fundraising total of $55,000, said Jeff C. Cole, reporter for WWNY-TV7, who served as the emcee.

“Every year they’ve been raising more money for the hospital, and hopefully with the record turnout it will be the same this year,” he said.

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