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Polar Bear Plunge in Riverfront Park celebrates 15 years

| Monday, Dec. 23, 2013, 2:27 p.m.
Leader Times
Some of the paricipants in last year's Dianna Ashbaugh Memorial Polar Bear Plunge are shown in the the icy waters of the Allegheny River in Kittanning on Jan. 1, 2013.

Organizers of the 15th-annual Dianna Ashbaugh Memorial Polar Bear Plunge hope area residents and visitors join them in splashing out for a good cause on the first morning of the new year.

Co-founders Todd Ashbaugh and Ed Bower raise money each year from the event to benefit the American Cancer Society. The annual event, which started in 2000, was named four years ago in honor of Ashbaugh's mother, who passed away from cancer.

And like previous years, the plunge is set to take place at the Riverfront Park boat launch at 8 a.m. New Year's Day.

“We always like to have a big crowd,” Bower said.

Last year, $2,000 was raised — despite few participants (about 44), Ashbaugh said. The record year for turnout was 2012, with 105 participants.

“I'm hoping with this being the 15th anniversary, it will bring out more people,” he said.

Ashbaugh noted that participants aren't required to donate.

However, he is encouraging those willing to take the chilly dip to ask their neighbors, friends and family members for a pledge.

There is not a set amount for pledges and there's no need to sign up ahead of time, Ashbaugh said.

“We always have a bucket there (at the event) for donations,” Bower said.

Bower wants people to know that they don't have to completely submerge themselves in the Allegheny River.

“You can just get in and get out,” he said, adding that last year, the oldest participants were 65 and the youngest was 9.

He noted that those younger than 18 must be accompanied by an adult.

The boat launch area has a zero entry level.

That makes it an ideal place to have the event, Ashbaugh said.

But, he added, that means it's the first place to ice over during wintery conditions.

“We always worry about ice,” Bower said, adding that he hopes milder weather will keep frozen conditions at bay.

He and Ashbaugh said they are grateful to members of Kittanning Hose Co. 6 river rescue team for volunteering every year to oversee safety issues.

Ashbaugh advises all novice polar bears to wear old tennis shoes or shoes that strap.

Having a support person there to hold a towel and keep clothing off the ground is a good idea, he said.

Brigid Beatty is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303 or bbeatty@tribweb.com.

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