FilAms usher in the New Year with a…brrr… polar plunge

Chrissi Fabro (3rd from right) with fellow ‘polar plungers’ and friends from Anakbayan NY

Chrissi Fabro (3rd from right) with fellow ‘polar plungers’ and friends from Anakbayan NY

By Cristina DC Pastor

When it was time, Chrissi Fabro stripped down to her Betty Paige bikini and jumped into the freezing waters of the Coney Island Beach with about 2,000 others. She got out after 30 seconds when her feet began to feel numb and heavy, and went back in the water for another 30 seconds before finally throwing in the towel.

“It’s just 60 seconds out of 365 days in a year,” said Chrissi when interviewed by The FilAm. “That’s how I looked at it.”

Welcome to the annual Coney Island Polar Plunge, a goofy New York tradition that was started nine years ago by the Coney Island Polar Bear Club founded in 1903 by bodybuilder Bernarr MacFadden. MacFadden, an early advocate of health and fitness, believed that a “dip in the ocean during the winter” was good for one’s health.

Over the years, the polar plunge has become a rite of passage for some families, a form of fundraising for some organizations, and a test of dare and bragging rights for others.

Chrissi came with friends and fellow activists from Anakbayan NY. This year was her second.

“I learned from the first time. Last year I didn’t dress properly,” she said.

She learned, for example, that covering up was not a good idea.

“When you do the plunge, wear as little as possible because when you get out of the water, your T shirt takes a longer time to dry out,” she explained. “This year, I used a bikini. I learned my lesson.”

A triumphant Marilyn Abalos faces local TV cameras after braving the frigid waters.

A triumphant Marilyn Abalos faces local TV cameras after braving the frigid waters.

Marilyn Abalos was at the same Coney Island Beach for the Pauline Polar Plunge’s ‘Freezin’ for a Reason’ for a different reason. As national chair of the St. Paul Alumnae Association in the U.S. and Europe, she was raising money for her Philippine high school, St. Paul’s University, through her alumnae organization.

“I was in water for 1:45 minutes with most of the Penguins,” she said, referring to the Penguins of You Gotta Believe, a foster parent-child service group.

“I was warm enough because I used a wetsuit. However I now know the meaning of ‘ice needles’ because my feet got very, very cold and painful despite the tabby shoes I wore,” she added.

For Marilyn, a dip in 34 degrees weather was as much recreational as it was for a charity cause. She said, “I wanted to dip for dollars in the cold waters so that students in tropical Philippines would not be left in the cold without education, without opportunities for a better life.”

To those intrigued and seriously considering joining next year’s polar plunge, the organizers answer on their website many of the concerns on people’s minds.

Q: Can’t you get hypothermia ?

A: It is possible to get hypothermia, but in club memory, going back over 20 years now, no member has ever suffered from hypothermia or frostbite. We know our limits and look out for each other.

Q: Do you have to be in excellent health to do this?

A: Take a look at the pictures throughout this site. Do we look like body builders? Our members vary from trim athletic figures to those less interested in running a marathon. We do recommend all participants consult their physicians before engaging in winter swimming.

“It helps to be with friends,” said Chrissi, who vowed to return to the beach next year. “It’s much more comforting knowing your friends are there. And it’s a lot more fun.”

red line

Leave a Reply