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Connellsville Polar Bears getting ready for 2010 plunge

| Saturday, Dec. 26, 2009

New Year's Day 2010 will mark the sixth annual Connellsville Polar Bear Club's Youghiogheny River dip.

Organizers are hoping for a record crowd to take the plunge into the ice-cold water.

"The nice thing about the river is that you can ease in," said Frank Jacobyansky, one of the organizers of the Polar Bear Club. Jacobyansky said the club started when he approached a friend about jumping in the river, then friends and family members became interested and the club grew. Last year, about 180 people participated. The first year, participation was recorded at 41.

Jacobyansky said the Connellsville club is the second-largest polar bear club in Southwestern Pennsylvania. The largest club is in Pittsburgh. It has approximately 500 jumpers. The Pittsburgh jumpers enter the water in separate groups; the Connellsville club goes in all at once.

"Some people have even gone up to their ankles, and we're okay with that," he said.

The frigid activity supplies a hefty shot of adrenaline, according to polar bear swimmers.

The Coney Island Polar Bear Club, the original club that started it all, was founded in 1903 by Bernarr Macfadden, who was called the "father of physical culture" because he was an early advocate of physical fitness, natural foods and exercise.

Macfadden wrote more than 100 books on his theories of health, sexuality and fitness, and believed that a dip in the Atlantic Ocean during wintertime would benefit a person's stamina, virility and immunity, the validity of which is debatable.

Organizer Bruce Jaynes said participants come from as far as Pittsburgh and Somerset, and West Virginia and Ohio to take the plunge.

"It's a nice way to start off the new year," Jaynes said. A photographer will be on hand to take a group shot that will be available for purchase along with the annual T-shirts.

Jacobyansky said first-time participants must wear shoes when entering the river, and it's also a good idea to have dry clothes waiting on shore and a blanket even though a bonfire will be on the shore.

Organizers ask participants to bring nonperishable food items to be donated to the Connellsville Community Ministries food bank.

"Last year, we had five shopping carts full of food," Jacobyansky said. "We can do better than that. The main thing is to bring the food."

The sixth annual Connellsville Polar Bear jump will take place at 11 a.m. Jan. 1 at the Yough River Park in Connellsville.

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