Couple take the plunge during Polar Bear outing

Matthew Santoni
| Sunday, Jan. 2, 2011

Judy Herilla and Adam Lipinski knew they'd get cold feet on their wedding day -- along with cold legs, cold arms and everything else.

The happy couple and hundreds of others leapt into the muddy, misty and frigid Monongahela River on New Year's Day, not long after Herrilla and Lipinski exchanged vows on a water taxi that pulled up to the Mon Wharf for the Pittsburgh Polar Bear Club's annual dip.

"It's symbolic to us of embarking into the future together, plunging into the future," said Herilla, 35, of Springdale, who avoided a waterlogged wedding dress by donning a swimsuit with a long, purple-and-white tutu and her veil. Lipinski wore shorts and a T-shirt with a tuxedo printed on it.

Herilla and Lipinski had planned on getting married Nov. 11, 2011, so their anniversary would be 11-11-11, but decided to move it up to Jan. 1 to maintain the pattern of repeating ones in the date. They considered getting married while camping in the woods, but figured it would be too cold -- so they jumped into the 37-degree river instead.

The two are no strangers to the cold: Herilla said she is one of the co-founders of Frostburn, an icy, East Coast counterpart to the "Burning Man" festival held every year in the Nevada desert. At the last Frostburn, the couple splashed in the icy creek near the Coopers Lake Campground in Slippery Rock.

So many other aspiring polar bears showed up at the Mon Wharf that they had to jump in and out of the river in waves. Thick, gooey mud covered the new riverside walking path from the last time the river had flooded, in late November, causing some slips and slides that couldn't detract from the happy mood.

"It was kind of gross because there's a stream of mud going in," said Christine McCauley, 27, of Hutchinson, who planned to dry off and warm up before going to the Winter Classic. "We'd been talking about doing this all year, crossing it off our 'bucket list,' and I couldn't let my boyfriend do it without me."

Costumes were common, including fake polar bear fur, superheroes, body paint and Santa hats. Jeff Wilinski of Brookline extolled the beauty and virtues of Pittsburgh before leaping in wearing red and green body paint and a tiny, tinsel Christmas tree atop his head.

Scott Walton, 41, of Blairsville jumped in wearing a full-body, fake-muscled Green Lantern costume, but instead of keeping him warmer, the comic-book costume felt like it weighed him down as he plunged into the river, he said.

"The water tasted a little weird," said Walton, owner of The Vault Comics & Games in Greensburg. "You couldn't help but get it in your mouth, because you're gasping for air the minute you hit."

"It's cold. ... It sucks the life right out of you," said Bob Walters, 42, of Beechview, whose brother Pat convinced him to take his first dip. "But I'll definitely do it again."

Nick Gigliotti, 22, was a Marine returning from Iraq when he first got the notion to do the plunge in 2009. Yesterday, his second dip, felt colder compared to last year's event, but he had a fellow Marine and friends by his side.

"We were in transit back from Iraq when we saw it on the Internet and knew we had to do it," Gigliotti said. "It's a big wake-up, and it's a good time."

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