Freezing for a Reason: Exercise Like an Eskimo to start 2011

by Michael Short on February 24, 2011

By Michael Short

New Year’s Day began with a frosty splash for many Sussex Countians.

In Bethany Beach, Fenwick Island and Lewes, there were polar bear plunges to begin 2011. A fourth group of hardy polar bears braved the waters in Ocean City.

Next month, the Special Olympics Polar Bear Plunge in Rehoboth Beach on February 6 is expected to draw thousands of people to what is rapidly becoming a Sussex County tradition.

Last year, the event in Rehoboth Beach drew 2,323 bears and has expanded to include a run, chili cooking, ice carving and children’s games. Governor Jack Markell showed up last year, although the event had to be postponed after a massive February snowfall.

But when it finally went off in March, it was an enormous success.

In Bethany Beach, the 15th annual Leo Brady Exercise Like the Eskimos plunge drew 478 splashers at high noon on New Year’s Day. Drawn by 50 degree weather, hundreds gathered at the Bethany Beach Boardwalk to listen to music and take the plunge.

“It seemed like everybody was out having a good time,” said Carrie Subity, the executive director of the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce. “It went very well.”

“We’re freezin’ for a reason,” according to the Chamber’s website.

The event is named for Leo Brady, a long-time volunteer and one of the founders of the event. “He was a huge asset and friend to the entire Quiet Resorts Community,” said Subity.

Brady’s son was on hand for this year’s plunge.

With a cannon shot sounding the signal to plunge, the bears splashed into the water. There were just over 300 people at the 2010 event, but the relatively balmy weather after a foot of snow may have drawn more people.

“Everybody was getting a little bit of cabin fever,” said Subity.

Winning groups took home the coveted and well-named Iceberg Trophy. Three icebergs were awarded this year with the Leaping Dolphins winning the category for the largest student group. Cottage Cafe won the commercial Iceberg category and Team Neptune from Frankford won the non-commercial class.

PNC Bank was the presenting sponsor for the Bethany plunge.

But Bethany Beach was far from alone.

The Lewes Polar Bears plunged into the Atlantic at Cape Henlopen State Park, continuing almost a full three decades of tradition. It’s the Lewes Polar Bears who plunge in February to benefit Special Olympics (that plunge actually takes place in Rehoboth Beach).

Fenwick Island’s Fenwick Freeze took place for the seventh year and the Atlantic General Hospital Penguin Swim went off in Ocean City, Maryland.

Plungers (it’s one event that never lasts more than a few seconds) often turn the events into family traditions and there’s often more than a few odd costumes, signs, hats and general fun at the affairs.

In fact, the Exercise Like the Eskimos event specifies that you have to wear a bathing suit. There can be no “wetsuits, sweat suits, business suits” etc., according to the rules.

Most of the events are fundraisers with the Exercise Like the Eskimos event raising some $2,500 for the Quiet Resorts Charitable Foundation. “Collect donations to support your splash from those who are too chicken to take the icy plunge,” the chamber’s website advises.

The Fenwick Freeze raises money for the Fenwick Island Lifeguards Competition Fund while the Penguin Swim in Ocean City raises money to support the hospital. For more information about the Quiet Resorts Charitable Foundation, go to info@qrcf.org.

“It was just a good day in Bethany Beach,” said Subity.

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