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Hardy souls take the annual plunge

From left, Zach Rice, his son Cyrus Rice, 7, and Melanie Mayo get set to hit the frigid water at the Jewish Community Center during the 4th Annual Polar Bear Plunge on Monday. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Temperatures were low, but spirits were high as Albuquerqueans dove into the New Year Monday morning during the Jewish Community Center’s annual Polar Bear Plunge.

By the time participants braved the outdoor pool, the sun was shining, but temperatures hovered in the high 30s, though they reached 50 by the afternoon.

Jack Freed gave it a try for the first time this year, and he joked that starting off in a warmer year might better prepare him for more miserable future conditions.

“Figured we’d start soft and next year we’ll be ready for the blizzard,” he said as he toweled off after the dive.

He said the nicer weather didn’t leave him feeling slighted and it didn’t make the jump any less jarring.

“It is a little warm out, I thought ‘Oh it won’t be that bad,’ ” he said. “It was. It was pretty cold.”

For many, the plunge is as much about the frigid experience as it is about giving. This year, the funds raised through the Polar Bear Plunge went to the ABQ BioPark polar bears, Special Olympics New Mexico and the JCC’s camp scholarship fund.

“I thought it would be really fun and it’s for the polar bears, and I think they’re cute,” said 9-year-old Anastasia Cohen.

Dave Gatterman wears hammerhead shark headgear before hitting the water during the Polar Bear Plunge at the Jewish Community Center on Monday. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

Cohen, wearing a polar bear hat and sipping a cup of hot chocolate topped with marshmallows, said she cannonballed into the pool, and would consider participating again in the future.

JCC development coordinator Lauren Duling said the 100 or so jumpers this year seemed drawn to the plunge as both a way to give back and as a symbol of a fresh start.

“Jumping in, throwing everything in the pool,” Duling said. “Everything’s behind you.”