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Hundreds brave freezing temps for annual Pittsburgh Polar Bear Plunge

Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review - A large crowd took the plunge into an icy Monongahela River during the Pittsburgh Polar Bear Jump on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014. Daring divers braved below-freezing temperatures to take part in the New Year's Day tradition sponsored by the Polar Bear Club along the Mon Wharf, Downtown.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Keith Hodan  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>A large crowd took the plunge into an icy Monongahela River during the Pittsburgh Polar Bear Jump on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014. Daring divers braved below-freezing temperatures to take part in the New Year's Day tradition sponsored by the Polar Bear Club along the Mon Wharf, Downtown.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review - A large crowd took the plunge into an icy Monongahela River during the Pittsburgh Polar Bear Jump on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014. Daring divers braved below-freezing temperatures to take part in the New Year's Day tradition sponsored by the Polar Bear Club along the Mon Wharf, Downtown.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Keith Hodan  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>A large crowd took the plunge into an icy Monongahela River during the Pittsburgh Polar Bear Jump on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014. Daring divers braved below-freezing temperatures to take part in the New Year's Day tradition sponsored by the Polar Bear Club along the Mon Wharf, Downtown.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review - Four members of the Penn-Trafford High School swim team take the plunge into an icy Monongahela River during the Pittsburgh Polar Bear Jump on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014. From left, Anthony Montalto, Noah Babik, Kurt Baurle and Kyle Edwards were among the crowd that braved below-freezing temperatures to take part in the New Year's Day tradition sponsored by the Polar Bear Club along the Mon Wharf, Downtown.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Keith Hodan  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Four members of the Penn-Trafford High School swim team take the plunge into an icy Monongahela River during the Pittsburgh Polar Bear Jump on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014. From left, Anthony Montalto, Noah Babik, Kurt Baurle and Kyle Edwards were among the crowd that braved below-freezing temperatures to take part in the New Year's Day tradition sponsored by the Polar Bear Club along the Mon Wharf, Downtown.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review - A large crowd took the plunge into an icy Monongahela River during the Pittsburgh Polar Bear Jump on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014. Daring divers braved below-freezing temperatures to take part in the New Year's Day tradition sponsored by the Polar Bear Club along the Mon Wharf, Downtown.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Keith Hodan  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>A large crowd took the plunge into an icy Monongahela River during the Pittsburgh Polar Bear Jump on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014. Daring divers braved below-freezing temperatures to take part in the New Year's Day tradition sponsored by the Polar Bear Club along the Mon Wharf, Downtown.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review - Ava Boardman, 9, of Butler reaches for a helping hand after taking the plunge into an icy Monongahela River during the Pittsburgh Polar Bear Jump on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014. This was the second year Ava participated in the plunge, and she was among the crowd that braved below-freezing temperatures to take part in the New Year's Day tradition sponsored by the Polar Bear Club along the Mon Wharf, Downtown.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Keith Hodan  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Ava Boardman, 9, of Butler reaches for a helping hand after taking the plunge into an icy Monongahela River during the Pittsburgh Polar Bear Jump on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014. This was the second year Ava participated in the plunge, and she was among the crowd that braved below-freezing temperatures to take part in the New Year's Day tradition sponsored by the Polar Bear Club along the Mon Wharf, Downtown.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review - Zachary Kozak of Hookstown is all smiles after taking the plunge into an icy Monongahela River during the Pittsburgh Polar Bear Jump on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014. This was the first year Kozak participated in the plunge, and he was among the crowd that braved below-freezing temperatures to take part in the New Year's Day tradition sponsored by the Polar Bear Club along the Mon Wharf, Downtown.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Keith Hodan  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Zachary Kozak of Hookstown is all smiles after taking the plunge into an icy Monongahela River during the Pittsburgh Polar Bear Jump on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014. This was the first year Kozak participated in the plunge, and he was among the crowd that braved below-freezing temperatures to take part in the New Year's Day tradition sponsored by the Polar Bear Club along the Mon Wharf, Downtown.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review - A large crowd took the plunge into an icy Monongahela River during the Pittsburgh Polar Bear Jump on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014. Daring divers braved below-freezing temperatures to take part in the New Year's Day tradition sponsored by the Polar Bear Club along the Mon Wharf, Downtown.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Keith Hodan  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>A large crowd took the plunge into an icy Monongahela River during the Pittsburgh Polar Bear Jump on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014. Daring divers braved below-freezing temperatures to take part in the New Year's Day tradition sponsored by the Polar Bear Club along the Mon Wharf, Downtown.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review - Brentwood sisters Lauren, left, and Olivia Healy take their first plunge into an icy Monongahela River during the Pittsburgh Polar Bear Jump on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014. This was the first year the two women participated in the plunge, and they were among the crowd that braved below-freezing temperatures to take part in the New Year's Day tradition sponsored by the Polar Bear Club along the Mon Wharf, Downtown.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Keith Hodan  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Brentwood sisters Lauren, left, and Olivia Healy take their first plunge into an icy Monongahela River during the Pittsburgh Polar Bear Jump on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014. This was the first year the two women participated in the plunge, and they were among the crowd that braved below-freezing temperatures to take part in the New Year's Day tradition sponsored by the Polar Bear Club along the Mon Wharf, Downtown.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review - Justine Harkness of Squirrel Hill lets out a scream from the cold after taking her first plunge into an icy Monongahela River during the Pittsburgh Polar Bear Jump on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014. Joining Harkness was her boyfriend, Justin Roeder of Cheswick (right). The couple were among the crowd that braved below-freezing temperatures to take part in the New Year's Day tradition sponsored by the Polar Bear Club along the Mon Wharf, Downtown.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Keith Hodan  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Justine Harkness of Squirrel Hill lets out a scream from the cold after taking her first plunge into an icy Monongahela River during the Pittsburgh Polar Bear Jump on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014. Joining Harkness was her boyfriend, Justin Roeder of Cheswick (right). The couple were among the crowd that braved below-freezing temperatures to take part in the New Year's Day tradition sponsored by the Polar Bear Club along the Mon Wharf, Downtown.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review - Participants in the Polar Plunge for Special Olympics dash out of the Allegheny River on the North Shore Sunday, December 2, 2012. About 1,000 made the dip into the chilly river water.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em> Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review</em></div>Participants in the Polar Plunge for Special Olympics dash out of the Allegheny River on the North Shore Sunday, December 2, 2012. About 1,000 made the dip into the chilly river water.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review - Jimmy Blackburn of Plum reacts as he enters the confluence of the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers as he participates in the Polar Plunge for Special Olympics on the North Shore Sunday, December 2, 2012. About 1,000 made the dip into the chilly river water.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em> Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review</em></div>Jimmy Blackburn of Plum reacts as he enters the confluence of the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers as he participates in the Polar Plunge for Special Olympics on the North Shore Sunday, December 2, 2012. About 1,000 made the dip into the chilly river water.

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Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014, 11:51 a.m.
 

Bill Baierl couldn't even feel the cold at first.

That happened only after his whole body clenched, he said.

“I wish I hadn't jumped out so far,” said Baierl, 52, of McCandless, whose 30-second dip in the Monongahela River on Wednesday morning was about 20 seconds longer than he intended. “Everything in your body constricts at once.”

He joined about 750 other swimmers — including some tip-toers — in 38-degree water to brave the Pittsburgh Polar Bear Club's annual New Year's Day jump at the Mon Wharf, buoying turnout from an estimated 500 in 2013. Proceeds from T-shirt sales went to Project Bundle-Up, a Salvation Army campaign to clothe children and the elderly with warm outerwear.

While organizers said social media probably helped draw people out, blue-faced participants offered a range of reasons for their brisk beginning to 2014.

“It's fun, it's an experience, and it helps a great cause,” said Crystal Dering, 20, of Reserve, a third-timer who kept her shoes on for the dip.

Several feet away, Liam Coyne, 26, of Bon Air, said he was in it for “bragging rights.” He took the plunge “just to do it, just to talk about it,” he said.

Mark Neely, who estimated his time in the water at a couple of seconds, said he might try it again next year. He didn't sound convinced.

“It was one of those bucket-list things, just to say I've done it before,” said Neely, 38, of Coraopolis.

Wednesday marked the eighth year that Polar Bear swimmers supported Project Bundle-Up, which hoped to raise about $12,000 through the event. The project supports about 7,200 people in need across Western Pennsylvania, said Emily Bell, a coordinator for the effort.

New Year's Day river swims in Pittsburgh date at least to the late 1920s or early 1930s, said Frank Nelson, 65, of North Huntingdon. The president of the Polar Bear Club, he's been taking the plunge since 1966.

He spent about three minutes in the water on Wednesday.

“This was a short year,” Nelson said. “Usually, it's 20 or 30 minutes until my wife nags me.”

Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676.

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