Thousands returned to Long Beach on Sunday to continue a decadeslong tradition on the city’s shore to plunge into frigid ocean waters for a good cause.
Unlike last year when organizers encouraged participants to “splash at home” due to the pandemic, large crowds flocked to the city’s boardwalk under sunny skies for the 22nd Long Beach Polar Bear Splash to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
With temperatures in the high 20s, children threw a football on the sand and danced to blasting music. Adults in bathing suits did pushups and jumped up and down before heading into the surf. Some screamed as they dashed out of the water while others cheered and whooped.
For George Matthaei of Lynbrook, Sunday’s dip was “mild” compared to previous colder years. The water temperature Sunday was about 38 degrees.
“The anticipation of going in is a lot worse than actually going in,” said Matthaei, 61, who has dunked for the past 20 years.
Ryan Troy, 22, submerged himself fully under water. And it took his breath away.
“It’s like a hole in your chest. And then you slowly get [your breath] back,” said Troy, after plunging for the eighth year in honor of his brother, Connor. The 12-year-old had a neuromuscular disease and died in 2013, months after his wish to meet Kermit the Frog was fulfilled.
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Ryan Troy’s mother, Kerry Ann Troy, 51, of Long Beach, donned a bright yellow sweatshirt bearing the words Long Beach Polar Bears — the name of the local organizing group. Yellow was Connor’s favorite color. She remains grateful for that family trip to Disney World.
“Connor was happier than he’d ever been,” she said. “I want to make sure we can do this for somebody else. It’s a struggle every day when you have a child who’s sick. And for an organization to come along and take away all the struggles and provide the special week is amazing.”
Since 2001, the event hosted by Long Beach Polar Bears has raised more than $8 million for the foundation, granting nearly 1,000 wishes for children with critical illnesses, said Pete Meyers, 58, who cofounded the group with friends, Kevin McCarthy and Mike Bradley.
It began to honor Bradley’s son, Paulie. The 4-year-old boy dreamed of becoming a police officer or a firefighter but died in 1997 of neuroblastoma, a cancer that mostly affects young children, his father said. He died before his wish to go to …….