BRCA "Polar Plungers" greeted by 40-degree water and 27-degree air at 12th annual event

It’s Michael Sabatina’s second time doing the Brandywine Red Clay Alliance’s Polar Plunge, but there was an admitted 10-year gap in between dips.

So what brought the 30-year-old Wilmington resident out on a 27-degree Saturday morning to rush headfirst into a 40-degree creek after so long a hiatus?

“It gives me a sense of release after a rough work week,” he said with a smile.

Sabatina also has a detailed preparation ritual before taking the “plunge” that does not appear to involve alcohol in any way.

“I start out with a nice cup of coffee. I run my hand under cold water, and then I take a cold shower. Then I wear a windbreaker and shorts to get used to the air. And then I find the biggest dude I can find and I run behind him so he’ll act like a shield,” he said. “Hopefully move some waves out of my path.”

Sabatina and roughly 150 more similarly minded folks rushed into the Brandywine Creek, from the shores of the Brandywine Picnic Park outside West Chester, Pa., for the 12th annual BRCA Polar Plunge, helping raise funds and awareness of the nonprofit water conservation organization.

Money raised during the Plunge goes to help fund various projects and educational outreach programs at the Pocopson Township, Pa.-based BRCA.

Prior to the Saturday, Feb. 9 event, “Plungers,” as they are affectionately referred to, have raised over $150,000 to help fund BRCA watershed restoration and conservation projects, and to spread the news about the importance of clean water.

The party-like atmosphere includes a bonfire, a live DJ, grilled treats by Hickory House Catering, and a costume contest.

This year’s top award went to the mysterious “Pete the Shad,” who had one message upon winning the prize: “Bring the shad back to the Brandywine.”

BRCA executive director Jim Jordan, whose ritual New Year’s Day dips in the ocean inspired the event said that people take the Plunge each year for different reasons.

For example Jaclyn McHugh, 34, of Ridley Park, Pa., had a simple reason for taking her inaugural Plunge – peer pressure.

“She made me,” she said, pointing the finger at her friend, Jillian Goltz, 32, of Thornton, Pa..

“I thought this would be a good idea, but then I realized that we’ve tubed down the Brandywine,” Goltz said. “So then I thought this would be a good way to give back.”

Clad in matching narwhal outfits, the duo agreed that this would probably be the one and only time they would do such a crazy thing, viewing it as a rite of passage that does not need repeating.

“That way you can say you’ve done it, and you never have to do it again – unless we love it,” she said.

“I just love doing it,” said Erik Stefferud, of West Chester, now on his 10th plunge, adding that, “it’s fun going into the water.”

But in all honestly, since his mom works for the BRCA, there may be some familial obligation involved.

“Yeah, that’s really why,” he conceded. “Can we leave that part out?”

We could. But we're not.

For more information on the BRCA, visit brandywineredclay.org.