By Michael Feely
The year 2000 was the start of a Brigantine New Year’s Day tradition, the Polar Bear Club ocean swim that started with seven participants including Polar Bear Club co-chairman John Hand.
“There was a small ad in the paper about a swim and I tried to get others involved. However, only seven people showed up including Jaime Beale and Chris Grubb,” he said. This swim has evolved into an annual event that had 350 swimmers and 2,000 spectators last year even with an ocean temperature of 38 degrees. Hand expects 500 swimmers this coming New Year’s Day.
This coming Jan. 1 will be the 10th year that Brigantine has had the Polar Bear Swim, which will commence at noon at the north end of the island. A new addition to the tradition is the tailgating that takes place in conjunction with the plunge. However, Hand advises that all vehicles must have a current four-wheel-drive permit as the city has advised that they will be enforcing the beach access regulations.
The Polar Bear Club swim raises money for Fisher House, a 501(c) 3 non-profit that benefits wounded military and their families. Last year, the Polar Bear Club raised $15,000 for Fisher House.
“Fisher House sets up houses around military hospitals, flies in the family and sets them up,” Hand said. “Ninety percent of all funds raised goes directly to the families.”
This year, Derek Donavan, vice president of Fisher House, will be on hand to cheer on the swimmers and thank the sponsors.
Most of the funds raised are from sponsors, which numbered 43 last year. This year there are already 92 sponsors, Hand said. The Polar Bear Club’s goal is to raise $25,000 for Fisher House this year. This money is also raised by sales of Polar Bear Club collectible sweatshirts, T-shirts, towels, huggies and hats. Hand said these can be purchased by either stopping by Ace Hardware on Saturday or Sunday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., or by calling him at (609) 892-0365. The artwork on the T-shirts is by Augie “Doggie” Peltonen, the co-chair of the Polar Bear Club.
Hand wants everyone to know that the Polar Bear Club swim goes on “snow, rain or shine.”
“Remember, this is a family event,” he added. “There is a lot of hollering and yelling but it is all in good fun.”
Prizes are awarded for best costumes, oldest swimmer, youngest swimmer and others. The Rod-N-Reel will hold an after-swim party featuring a barbeque plate for $5; the proceeds will go to Fisher House.
Anyone who wishes to make a donation or sponsor a swimmer should make out a check to Fisher House and send to PO Box 922, Brigantine, NJ 08203.
"Holidays, birthdays & anniversaries have been celebrated with tears and smiles with people who truly understand what the other person is experiencing."
- Kamryn Jaroszewski