Cheering wildly, hundreds of people in swimsuits charged the cold, shallow, and muddy waters of the Maumee River as they ushered in 2013 during the annual New Year's Day polar bear plunge Tuesday in the city of Waterville.
“It cleanses your senses, cleanses yourself, and starts you all new for the new year,” said David Cox, 47, of Toledo.
The hardwood-flooring contractor was one of 200 to 300 people who, according to Waterville police, went into the water, with between 400 and 500 people looking on from Waterville’s Memorial Park along the river bank. The temperature outside was about 20 degrees. The water temperature was about 33 degrees, according to the National Weather Service in Cleveland.
Participants rushed into the river as the clock struck 2:30 p.m., the time of the Jan. 1, 1936, wedding of the late Herb Mericle. Mr. Mericle began the tradition in 1929.
Still fondly remembered as the father of the New Year’s Day icy dip, Mr. Mericle of Waterville died in January, 2008, at the age of 101.
To summon up courage Tuesday afternoon, some people clutched hands with friends or relatives. Some shouted “Craziness!” or “Let’s do it!”
Many of the bathers just ran a few yards into the river — getting into the water knee deep — then turned around and darted back to the river bank. But some actually took a plunge.
In a couple of minutes it was over.
“I went all the way under,” said Justin Bailey, 30, of Bowling Green.
“It was definitely invigorating. It was cold for sure. I’ll do it again,” the factory worker added as he gasped. “I did it to celebrate winter, man. We’re bringing winter in in style.”
Standing nearby, using a towel to dry herself, was Nicole Royce, 28, who introduced herself as a friend of Mr. Bailey and said she was there with her husband and children.
“It was cold,” Ms. Royce said. “I did it to bring in the new year. And for my kids.”
“Everybody just gets together and does it together,” said Steve Feynich, 31, a UPS loader of Toledo, as he dried himself off after emerging from the river. “It gets your adrenaline going. It’s a shock to the senses. Why not do it?”
Camaraderie appeared to flow among the participants and the onlookers. On their way back to the parking lot people shared smiles and wished strangers a happy new year.
Contact Mike Sigov at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6089.