Most people avoid swimming in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of New York State in January when the water temperature hovers around a numbing 40 degrees, but not Cayman Islands resident Steven Sokohl, who plans to join the “Polar Bear Plunge” in East Hampton in an effort to raise $20,000 for local charities.
The chill-water dips are annual events held most notably in Canada, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, usually around New Year’s Day.
“You just kind of get out there with a bunch of crazy people, people in costumes – there are people in Santa suits – and they run in and wade around,” Mr. Sokohl said.
Mr. Sokohl, who grew up in New Jersey, remembers seeing members of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club on their New Year’s Day plunge. The club, which was formed in 1903, is said to be the oldest winter bathing organization in the United States.
“In Yiddish there’s an expression, this crazy bunch of mashuganas,” Mr. Sokohl said. “There are all these people, young and old, from 3 years old to 85 years old, and I just grew up seeing this crazy bunch of people doing this and I said, maybe at some point in my life, I’m going to do it.”
Most polar bear plunges in the U.S. partner with charitable organizations and ask participants to make donations. The Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge, for instance, raises money for Camp Sunshine, a respite camp for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. The East Hampton event raises money for the local food pantry.
Mr. Sokohl, who has been an active Rotarian for the past seven years, decided to leverage his “plunge” as a way to raise money for charities on island.
“It’s always been on my bucket list of things to do,” Mr. Sokohl said. “Why not try to do it and raise money for local charities?”
All of the money raised by Mr. Sokohl in Cayman will go to Rotary Sunrise, which, in turn, supports several charities. Mr. Sokohl said he is also trying to raise money in the U.S., and will give donors there the option of donating to Caymanian charities or U.S. charities.
Mr. Sokohl has already raised about $5,000 since he started fundraising a month ago. He has three months left to make it to his goal of $20,000, and he is looking for more donors. “Anything from $1 to $1,000 helps,” Mr. Sokohl said. He is offering prime real estate to whatever entity makes “the right contribution” – their logo emblazoned on a super-hero cape he plans to wear when he takes the plunge.
For more information, email Mr. Sokohl at [email protected]