Bristol plungers dive into the New Year


For the 10th time, the Mt. Hope High School swim team held what coach Jonathon Dell calls the shortest practice of the year on New Year’s Day. And they were not alone.

Besides Lauren Proctor, a former Mt. Hope swim team member who for the past few years has been celebrating her Jan. 1 birthday by jumping in the icy waters at Bristol Town Beach, a crowd of shivering souls stood in the wind-whipped parking lot. While many wore winter coats to shield them from the cold, some wore bathrobes. Others opted for bikinis or simply went shirtless. For others, funky hats and costumes were the fashion of the day.

At 11:50 a.m., Ben DeCastro, a Warren resident and promotions and events director for Cardi’s Furniture, hopped up into a bed of a pick-up truck to announce the 10-minute warning. Together, the huddled mass walked from the asphalt parking lot, across the snow covered grass, until they reached the sandy shoreline of the town beach. Thirty feet away, the white-capped waters of Narragansett Bay would separate the hardy from the foolhardy as the latter took a New Year’s Day plunge into the frigid water.

Until two years ago, the New Year’s Day plunge into the frigid waters of the Bristol town beach was something that the Mt. Hope Swim team coaches, Jon Dell and Al Alix, began as a fundraiser for their sport. Last year, the team, working with Cardi’s Furniture, “adopted” Children’s Wishes, a non-profit organization that grants wishes to children diagnosed with life threatening diseases.

Moments before noon, Dana Hrabcsak, executive director of Children’s Wishes, held an air horn above her head as the crowd counted down to noon. With a blast from the horn, approximately 50 people dashed into the icy waters, many screaming as they splashed into the water. Then Ms. Hrabcsak took off her plush robe and took her second annual dip with the Icebreakers.

“That is like mind-numbing cold,” said Rhonda Ziehl of Coventry. Wrapped in a towel, Ms. Ziehl was satisfied to have helped Children’s Wishes and achieve a personal accomplishment. “It’s on the bucket list,” she said of her reason for taking the plunge.

Even after entering the water of their own free will, some participants were quick to blame their friends for getting them into the water. “It was her idea,” Christian Alix said, pointing to Jenna Raposa.

Likewise, Mike Minikowski of Connecticut blamed his University of Connecticut classmate, Seth Alix, for getting him into the water. “He made me do it,” Mr. Minikowski said.

Others saw the New Year’s  plunge as a benchmark of personal success.

Mike Siino, owner of Nacho Mammas restaurant on State Street, saw the plunge as a community event and made a donation to help raise funds. But he was also there by personal choice.

“It’s something fun,” he said, hopping up and down to fight off the cold. “It’s a new beginning.”

Asher Soares, a 13-year-old Barrington Middle School student, described his first New Year’s Day plunge as “just painful.” He, along with his friend, Scott, dressed in colorful shorts and jester hats, with “2013” inked across their chests for the occasion. The two were already looking forward to next year’s event.

“It’s a good thrill,” Asher said.

After taking her first plunge into the brisk brine, Gina McCabe of Bristol made her way back across the snow toward her heated car, knowing that her participation was a personal milestone.

“It was a little painful,” she said of the water temperature. After remaining a spectator last year, she said her sister “made her do it” this year. “I lost weight and I can fit into a bikini this year,” she said. Her personal accomplishment more than made up for the chill.

While Mr. Dell said more New Year’s Day swim events are popping up around the state, attendance at the Icebreakers plunge is getting bigger. Last year, the Mt. Hope swim team donated all of the proceeds to Children’s Wishes to welcome them into the event. This year and moving forward, the two organizations plan to split the donations they collect.


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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.