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Polar Bears planning to take 13th dip into Allegheny River

| Thursday, Dec. 29, 2011

KITTANNING -- For some local residents the start of the new year means taking the plunge -- into the icy waters of the Allegheny River.

Near Year's Day 2012 will mark the 13th annual Dianna Ashbaugh Memorial Polar Bear Plunge at the Riverfront Park boat launch. Proceeds from the event benefit the American Cancer Society.

Todd Ashbaugh and Ed Bower, who are cofounders of the event, said they took their first frigid dip in January of 2000.

"We started off with a few brave souls," said Ashbaugh.

Bower said there were 17 people who joined them that first year. Since then the number of participants has grown to include more than 100 people.

"Most people run in and out," said Ashbaugh. "But there are some die-hards who swim around,"

Ashbaugh said the water temperature in early January is always around the low to mid 30s. This year, he said, the early morning air temperature is expected to be somewhere in the 30s.

"There are always issues with the elements, it's not something we can control," said Ashbaugh, adding that there have been concerns with the river's high water level.

The group takes precautions by making sure participants wear old shoes for protection against sharp rocks and debris. Those who are younger than 18 must be accompanied by an adult. Volunteers from local ambulance companies and members of the Kittanning Water Rescue Team show up early on New Year's Day to ensure the safety of the participants.

And according to Bower and Ashbaugh, many more people get involved every year without having to brave the cold water.

A lot of people support the event by coming out to watch, said Ashbaugh. Relay For Life teams raise money for the event by collecting donations and sponsoring participants to take the plunge.

"Once Relay For Life got involved, it (the Plunge) has taken on a life of its own," said Ashbaugh. "Once they got involved, they really helped with raising money."

Members of the oncology staff at ACMH Hospital have supported the cause, said Ashbaugh. Cancer patients and people who are in remission have come out to show support as well. He said his mother, Dianna, lost her battle with cancer and died from the disease two years ago.

Bower recalled how Dianna supported their annual New Year's Day plunge.

"She was always there, she never missed us jumping," said Bower.

Bower and Ashbaugh said how grateful they were for the amount of support the event has generated within the community and Bower gave his advice for those who plan to take the plunge this year.

"Have a good time and be careful," he said. "Jump in there, get a good soaking and sprint back out to a warm towel and a warm car."

Additional Information:

The cold facts

WHAT: The 13th Annual Dianna Ashbaugh Memorial Polar Bear Plunge.

WHEN: Sunday at 8 a.m.

WHERE: The Kittanning Riverfront boat launch.

ADVICE: Participants are reminded to wear old shoes and bring a towel. Those younger than 18 must be accompanied by an adult.

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