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Polar plungers brave Youghiogheny for charity

| Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017, 1:24 p.m.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Parker Mclellan (left), 8, and Ownen Pounds, 9, both of Connellsville, race out of the water, during the annual Connellsville Polar Bear Plunge at Yough River Park, in Connellsville, on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Amor Padron (left), 6, of Charleroi, is helped out of the water by her father Yghazo Padron, during the annual Connellsville Polar Bear Plunge at Yough River Park, in Connellsville, on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Kerry Wade of Clarksville, known as 'Speedo Santa' stays warm by a fire, before the start of the annual Connellsville Polar Bear Plunge at Yough River Park, in Connellsville, on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Fishermen watch from the river, as Keith Soom wades into the water, during the annual Connellsville Polar Bear Plunge at Yough River Park, in Connellsville, on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
First time plungers Rich Miller (left), 26, of Connellsville, and Wayne Ohler, 40, of Leisenring, warm up by the fire after ringing in the new year during the annual Connellsville Polar Bear Plunge at Yough River Park, in Connellsville, on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
John Zimmerman (left), of South Connellsville, watches as his son Zander, 9, races out of the cold water, during the annual Connellsville Polar Bear Plunge at Yough River Park, in Connellsville, on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Kerry Wade of Clarksville, known as 'Speedo Santa' takes a pre plunge wake up dip, before the start of the annual Connellsville Polar Bear Plunge at Yough River Park, in Connellsville, on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Amor Padron (left), 6, of Charleroi, is warmed by Dana Bier, during the annual Connellsville Polar Bear Plunge at Yough River Park, in Connellsville, on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Kerry Wade of Clarksville, known as 'Speedo Santa' takes a pre plunge wake up dip, before the start of the annual Connellsville Polar Bear Plunge at Yough River Park, in Connellsville, on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Alyzae Thomas, 5, of Markleysburg, warms up inside the warming tent, at the end of the annual Connellsville Polar Bear Plunge at Yough River Park, in Connellsville, on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017.

Michael Barczyk and his 13-year-old son, Adam, had a bet: who would be able to stay in the Youghiogheny River the longest at this year's Connellsville Polar Plunge at Yough River Park?

The Connellsville residents were the first two to hit the frigid water and the last to jump out on Sunday morning, their fourth year taking the plunge. And while one of them probably set foot back on land first, it was pretty much a tie as both raced back to shore to grab towels.

“I just really like the excitement, the countdown to jumping in,” Adam said, shivering as he began layering himself with dry clothes.

For first-timer Stuart Hall, 42, of Uniontown, it was all about making it to the riverbank on time.

“I was going to do it last year, but I was late and I just ended up standing around the bonfire,” Hall said. “It's something fun to do, and it's all about camaraderie.”

George Eutsey of Connellsville, a charter member of the Connellsville Polar Bear club, agreed.

“It's the people who really make the jump,” he said. “There's people here who think the rest of us are crazy for jumping in, but they're here to support us. You see someone new every year, and you always see friends from previous years.”

Nancy Jacobyansky, whose husband, Frank, initiated the first plunge 13 years ago, said she loves talking with people to find out why they decided to strip down and jump into 37-degree water in January.

“One year we had a group who had all been through some terrible things the previous year,” she said. “They had them all written on a posterboard, and after the plunge, they took the posterboard and tossed it into the bonfire. So it really was a new beginning for them.”

Strategy among participants varies, from those who wait until the last possible minute to strip down to their bathing suit to a pair of young women who were standing around in bikini tops a half-hour before the plunge to acclimate themselves to the weather.

This year, more than 100 newcomers signed up for the plunge. Jacobyansky said about 450 people total signed in, including plungers from Florida, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee and even Ontario, Canada.

For the Jacobyanskys, the best part is the donations they collect from plungers for the Connellsville Community Ministries.

“Their stores are pretty well depleted after the holidays, so we're sort of the first group to help them restock,” she said.

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. He can be reached at 724-850-2862 or pvarine@tribweb.com.

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