Hundreds to take a frigid plunge for a good cause

The 23d Atlantic City Polar Bear plunge will raise money for the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America.
The 23d Atlantic City Polar Bear plunge will raise money for the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America. (File Photograph)
Posted: January 02, 2014

Hundreds of people from the Philadelphia area and South Jersey are expected to take the annual plunge into the Atlantic City surf for the new year.

Wednesday marks the 23d annual Atlantic City Polar Bear plunge, when old and young peel off layers of clothing and take a quick swim in the Atlantic Ocean's frigid waters. Most wear bathing suits; some put on T-shirts. One year, an older man wore his birthday suit.

As for the belief that exposure to extreme elements makes you susceptible to colds, "that's baloney," says organizer Mike Kahlenberg of Langhorne, who charters a bus for Bucks County polar bears.

"I've done this for many years, and I've never gotten a cold," Kahlenberg, 72, said Tuesday on his way to the dentist to have a tooth pulled. For the tooth, he said, the dentist will numb his gums. "But I'm pretty numb from the shoulders up. To do this, you have to be a little goofy."

Aside from providing a unique adventure, the event raises money for the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America, which provides services - such as transportation and wheelchairs - for those in treatment.

The plunge will be at noon at Resorts Casino. Many stop afterward at the Irish Pub on St. James Place, one of the event sponsors.

Some years the temperature is so cold that it is warmer in the water than out, said Kahlenberg, who wears a red Speedo. On Wednesday, temperatures in Atlantic City are expected to be in the high 30s to mid-40s. The water is about 45 degrees.

Mary and Richard Senker of Holland have attended several plunges. She took a dip the first year; he has done at least two swims.

The Bucks County couple this year will assist with fund-raising. The event has taken on new meaning since their son, at 28, was found to have multiple sclerosis.

Mary Senker, 60, said swimming in the Atlantic in the winter "was a once-in-a-lifetime experience" for her.

"I have the certificate, and I could be seen briefly on the news," Senker said.

Only those who go all the way get the certificate, Kahlenberg said.

"Anyone can go in and get their ankles wet," Kahlenberg said. "To get a certificate, I require you to go under."

Joe Monaghan, 51, of Abington, said he has been doing the polar plunge since the early 1990s but refuses to wear a Speedo. He will be in camouflage swim trunks and hopes his teenage son will join him. Every year, he takes someone new, because, he said, he has never had a friend or relative return.

"Do you believe that?" Monaghan said. "It's a baptism for the new year, to wash away the demons from the year before."


bboyer@phillynews.com

856-779-3838 @BBBoyer

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