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Polar Bear plunge continues in Connellsville

| Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013, 12:52 a.m.
For The Independent-Observer
The first wave of people taking the plunge on New Year's Day into the Youghiogheny River in Connellsville sprint back to shore for warm clothes and hot chocolate, kicking off 2013 with an icy chill. Ashley Pinkney (center) of Uniontown makes a made dash for the shore and her sweat clothes. Lori C. Padilla | For The Independent-Observer
Friends take time to reconnect following their plunge into the Youghiogheny River as the Polar Bear Club sponsored its annual New Year's Day plunge. Attorney Linda Cordaro (left) poses for an after-plunge photo with the Rev. Robert Lubic, John Fidel and Robert Kossel. Lori C. Padilla | for the Daily Courier
Those willing to brave the cold took turns getting their pictures taken with the Polar Bear Club cutout before heading to the Youghiogheny River to take the New Year's Day plunge. Steve Sawka (left), Caleb Sawka, Ashley Pinkney and Rune Burnett get their picture taken to memorialize the event. Lori C. Padilla | For the Daily Courier
Devon Colevank of Masontown prepares himself for the cold water by making a snow angel before jumping into the Youghiogheny River for the New Year's Day plunge. This is the second time he has taken part in the event. Lori C. Padilla | For the Daily Courier
The annual New Year's Day plunge in the Youghiogheny River brought out plenty of colorful costumes to add enjoyment to the event. Len Hofmann (left), Ed Kelemen and Greg Hofmann thought warm and Hawaiian before taking a dip. Lori C. Padilla | For the Daily Courier
Leighann and Greg Lincoln, with their 8-year-old son Gregory, display their college football pride for the South Carolina Gamecocks prior to jumping into the Youghiogheny River on New Year's Day. It was their son's first plunge into the water. The South Carolina Gamecocks took on Michigan in the Outback Bowl later in the day. Lori C. Padilla | For the Daily Courier
Frank Jacobyansky (standing in river) helps the crowd count down before they all plunged into the Youghiogheny River in Connellsville on New Year's Day. The annual dip in the water has become tradition for many who attend with family and friends. Lori C. Padilla | For the Daily Courier
The Connellsville Polar Bear Club tries to keep track of all those taking part in the New Year's Day tradition of plunging into the Youghiogheny River. Last year boasted more than 400 participants. Kaitlyn Hughes of Connellsville checks in for her second year of braving the cold to take the plunge. Lori C. Padilla | For the Daily Courier
Pittsburgh native Leonard Lucas came to the Connellsville Polar Bear Club New Year's Day plunge into the Youghiongheny River after watching a video on line and thinking it looked like great fun. In its ninth year, the New Year's Day plunge drew hundreds of people with food donations taken to benefit the St. Vincent DePaul Society. Lori C. Padilla | For the Daily Courier
The Polar Bear Club took donations of nonperishable food from those taking the plunge in the Youghiogheny River on New Year's Day. Alana Fiano (left) and Matt Jaynes make their donation to volunteers Tom Whelan and Carl Helinsky from the St. Vincent DePaul Society. Lori C. Padilla | For the Daily Courier
Ben Keller of Connellsville tries to get as close to the fire as possible after he took his turn in the Youghiogheny River during the Polar Bear Club's annual New Year's Day plunge. Lori C. Padilla | For the Daily Courier
The 'Grinch' even decided to take the plunge on New Year's Day as Shawn Minerd (left) of Uniontown and Josh Morris of Vanderbilt brave the cold for the first time. Lori C. Padilla | For the Daily Courier
The New Year's Day plunge brought out plenty of first-time swimmers to take an icy dip in the Youghegheny River. Nine-year-old Hannah Gnibus warms up in the warming tent with her uncle, Dale Kooser, after her first jump in the water; it was his sixth. Lori C. Padilla | For the Daily Courier
Patti McGrath helps her daughter, Bailey, balance in the river as they take their own dip in the Yough to start out the new year. Lori C. Padilla | For the Daily Courier

The cold weather and several inches of snow were not enough to deter many people from participating in the ninth annual New Year's Day Polar Bear plunge in Connellsville on Tuesday.

Barely dressed in swim trunks, bikinis and sandals, hundreds came down to Yough River Park to start off the new year in an unusual way.

Frank Jacobyansky, one of the organizers of the annual event, said there were more than 400 people who took the plunge last year and was sure there were at least that many again this year.

“This is one of the snowier ones we've had, but this is a big deal for people,” he said, guessing there could be approximately 500 participants this year.

“This is something that is a sense of community,” Jacobyansky said. “I'll see people here who I haven't seen all year.

“We have made good friends through this. I've met people here that I would never have known other­wise.”

Edwin Zylka and his daughter, Margaret Zylka House, have been jumping into the river for the past five or six years. His grandson, Max House, has even joined them for three or four years.

“I think it makes you feel more alive — like you've really accomplished something or done something that a lot of people wouldn't do,” Edwin Zylka said. “It's a mind over matter thing where you show yourself that you can control your own destiny and if things go bad at some point in your life, you are strong enough to make changes.”

Some jumpers were not nearly as philosophical.

Mariah Bentz, an 11th-grade student at Southmoreland High School, was there simply to get out of writing a five-page essay on an American scientist.

Her teacher, Mike Busato, offers his students the opportunity to bypass the essay if they take part in the annual event.

Busato said this is an opportunity for his students to get involved in the community, but added that “it is strictly voluntary.”

Bentz said she attends a camp on occasion that has a natural spring that stays about 30 degrees throughout the year.

“I went in there before, so I think I can do this,” she said, adding that her strategy was to get in and out fast without getting run over.

Busato said 12 of his students participated last year and at least two came back this year and brought their families, because they thought it was so much fun.

“No matter how cold it is out here, it's colder in there,” Busato said of the river. “The air feels surprisingly warm when you come out.”

The goal at that point is just to dry off and get some clothes on, some participants said.

Busato added that he's never once gotten sick after jumping in the river.

Youngster Max House said he doesn't actually get warm until he goes home, gets a hot bath and drinks some hot chocolate.

Jacobyansky said the bottom line of the whole event is “it's just fun.”

Rachel Basinger is a freelance writer.

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