New Year's Day arrived with a bite in the air and a baring of bodies as the polar bears of Fort Wayne participated in the annual ritual of a plunge into the icy waters of the St. Joseph River at Johnny Appleseed Park.
The 20-something degree temperatures didn't keep the crowds away Wednesday afternoon. A few first-timers openly complained that it looked like more fun last year when it was 49 degrees. Many were dressed in costumes, a few wore only thongs, but all shared the same scream as their bare flesh hit the water.
As to why they all do this, one man compared it to eating live goldfish, things can't get worse than that for 2014, he said. An older woman, who had talked a couple of 20-year-olds into taking the plunge with her said, “It's exhilarating.”
For Josh Ehinger and his friends it was the first time.
“It's basically the culmination of crazy people doing crazy things, it's just fun,” Ehinger said before taking the plunge in a chicken mask.
Carlos Palacio had a serious reason; he was doing it for a family member with breast cancer. Decked out in a pink and black "Duck Dynasty" breast cancer awareness T-shirt and bright pink Speedo swimsuit he was beaming in anticipation of the frigid dip. Last year he had taken the plunge on a dare, but this year it was for the cause.
Tracey Nash, her daughter Brandy Nash, and Tiffany Cooper were on hand to dip in memory of Cooper's father, who died 15 years ago.
After singing the national anthem and counting down from five, the crowd rushed like lemmings for a cliff, down the boat ramp and into the water. While most people quickly ran in and out, a few older men lingered in the water, smiling and high-fiving each other.
Then as quickly as they had come, the crowd made its way back up the bank, toweling off, exclaiming over the feat and then heading for warm cars.