FREDERICKTOWN – The annual New Year’s Day group plunge into the Monongahela River begins in Fredericktown at noon with a candlelight vigil and moment of silence for members of a social club who died the previous year.
Members of Order of Owls 1038 in the Washington County village then walk a short distance to docks in the water, where at the count of three everyone springs into the frigid water and hurries to get back to the club to get warm.
“It was cold. It takes your breath away,” said Matt Stay of Fredericktown, who wore Christmas elf shorts as swim trunks.
His brother, Chris, donned a red dress for the occasion, saying it’s customary for some of the swimmers to outdo each other by wearing outrageous costumes.
“I just go for it,” Chris Stay said.
Nearly two dozen daredevils took a dip in the Mon Wednesday in aFredericktown tradition that dates to 1996.
“As soon as you hit the water, you are in a hurry to get out,” said Randy Miller of Fredericktown, who no longer goes into the water at the event.
Michael Zibrida of Richeyville said he and a cousin, Chandler Hayes of Florida, started the Fredericktown Polar Bear Club dip over a bet they waged that dared each of them to take a brief winter swim on the holiday or pay a $100 wager.
“It gets families together,” Zibrida said.
Nearly 100 people appeared to have crowded into the club at 313 Owls Ave. for a party after the swim.
“It’s just something to look forward to every year,” said Dylan McGrady, 19, of Vestaburg, adding he has participated in the swim since he was 6 years old.
One year, Zibrida said, the club had to break away ice on top of the water in order to complete the dare.
“The colder it is out there, the better,” Matt Stay said. “You get acclimated to the temperature of the water sooner.”
No one takes the river’s temperature before the plunge, Zibrida said.
The outdoor temperature at noon Wednesday was about 35 degrees, and the river was muddy.