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Braving the cold for a good cause

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Friday, Jan. 2, 2009

KITTANNING — The air temperature was 17 degrees and the water temperature was 34, perfect for an early-morning swim Thursday in the Allegheny River.

At least 71 people thought conditions were right as they ran from the boat launch ramp just off South Water Street headlong into the Allegheny. It was not only fun, but it was all for a good cause.

According to one event organizer, Todd Ashbaugh of Kittanning, the New Year's Day swimmers raised about $3,000 for the American Cancer Society.

“This marked the 10th year we have done this,” Ashbaugh said.

“We had hoped to have 100 swimmers, but I guess 17 degree air temps and a high river kept some people away. The boat launch area was flooded from recent rains but we just waded through knee-deep water over the paved area and into the river. Some people walked out until the water was up to their chest then dove under. So even though we didn't get the 100 people we had hoped for, and we actually had less than last year, we still raised about the same amount as we did last year.”

One swimmer, Rebecca Middleby, 30, of Fawn, managed to raise $500 for the cancer society before coming to Kittanning for the annual dip. Middleby's mother is battling cancer and Ashbaugh said she wanted to do her part to help the cancer society.

“Several ladies who work for our local Sheetz Store also joined us,” Ashbaugh added. “They had a collection can out in the store for several days before our jump and came down to the river this morning as a team.”

Co-organizer Ed Bower said everyone got into and out of the river safely. He said he and Ashbaugh were grateful for the Hose Company 6 Water Rescue Team that has provided standby rescue services for the event for the past 10 years.

“They've never been called into action,” Bower said, “but it's comforting to know they will be there if they are needed. By the way, our youngest swimmer was age 6, and our oldest was a lady who was 65. Despite only 71 people showing up, we had a surprising number of new polar bears this year. We may have set a record of sorts for first-time jumpers.”

Ashbaugh and Bower said they plan to be in the river again next year on Jan. 1, 2010.

“Of course, we don't know what the weather will be like then, but we hope that maybe we'll have 100 swimmers,” Ashbaugh said.

“However, the important thing is raising money for the cancer society. That's our overall goal and the main reason we do this. But we do have a lot of fun too.”

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