Rare sighting of polar bears

That's one way to start the new year

Starting fresh in North Hampton on January 1, 2013.

Hampton Union, Jan. 4: Polar Bears plunge into new year
By Amy Kane

NORTH HAMPTON — A fresh start and crazy fun is what motivated some local residents to take a dive into the ocean together on New Year’s Day.

The North Hampton Polar Bear Club held its third annual plunge at North Hampton Beach on Jan. 1 at 10 a.m. It was organized informally by e-mail, Facebook and word-of-mouth. Anyone can be a member of the club. Just show up at the beach on the first morning of the year and — ready, set, go — run into the frigid North Atlantic Ocean.

About 25 people took the plunge this year, while family and friends waited on shore with towels and coats, cups of hot coffee and freshly-baked pastries… and cameras, of course.

“It’s a lot colder than last year,” said Alana Hickey, who is one of the original North Hampton “polar bears.”

It started two years ago at a holiday party, she explained, as a dare among friends. They all lived in North Hampton and knew each other through their children’s sports teams. Six people accepted the dare and took the plunge on the first day of 2011. They were Alana Hickey, Ross Peterson, Holly Knox, Eric Reardon, Paul Martino and his father Ron Martino from Newburyport, Mass.

Why do they keep doing it?

“Because it feels really good,” said Hickey, grinning as drops of seawater trickled down her goose-bumpy bare legs. The ocean temperature was 46 degrees and the air temp was 33, with a wind chill of 22.

“Because we said we’d do it,” said Ross Peterson. “And we’re from the Midwest,” said Peterson’s friend Mike Kelly. Peterson is originally from Minnesota and Kelly from Wisconsin.

Lots of kids joined in this year too, including Ross Peterson’s daughter Molly, 12. “I watched them do it the first two years and it looked like so much fun. But,” she concluded, shivering and smiling, “it really wasn’t.”

New to the plunge this year was Stacy Miller, who moved from an inland New Hampshire town to apartments near the ocean in Hampton last February. She read about the “Polar Bear Plunge” on the Friends of North Hampton Beach Facebook page. Jumping in the ocean on New Year’s Day just seemed like a strangely good idea, and she persuaded family and friends to do it too.

“I wanted to start fresh,” she said. “I have incredible goals this year.”

Miller says she wants to get out more, meet new people and be part of the community.

Stacy Miller’s friend Denise Moreau, of Hampton, described her New Year’s plunge into the Atlantic as “cleansing” and “spiritual.” Other cold-water swimmers touted the adrenaline rush, the excitement, getting out of the house, and beginning 2013 with a sense of accomplishment.

“It was cold, but good,” said Moreau.

Ross Peterson said this year’s plunge was also a celebration of improvements at North Hampton Beach, with the construction of the new bathhouse on schedule for opening in 2013.

“It’s a great beach. It’s like a big playground for the kids,” said Peterson.

“We use the beach all summer, but then we don’t come here in the winter. But we’re using it today,” said Alana Hickey. “It’s a community bonding event.”

Are you ready to take the plunge?

Next chance to run screaming and laughing into the frigid ocean with lots of other people is one month away…

The annual Penguin Plunge, a Special Olympics New Hampshire fundraiser, takes place on Sunday, Feb. 3, at noon at Hampton Beach. Registration fee is $50 and participants must raise an additional $300 to take the plunge. This year’s dress-up theme is “Going to the Chapel.”

A high school penguin plunge is set for Saturday, Feb. 2 at noon. Participants raise $175 each to participate. The 2013 theme is “Greek Olympics.” For information and registration, visit Special Olympics New Hampshire at sonh.org.

More photos from Polar Bear plunge on New Year’s Day are HERE.