BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — SALEM — A bundled up Mayor Kim Driscoll asked the question that was on the minds of dozens of folks as they stood shivering in 25-degree temperatures on New Year’s Day, wearing nothing but bathing suits and flip-flops or wrapped in towels and robes at the Winter Island boat ramp.
“What’s wrong with you crazy people?” Driscoll joked, drawing hoots, cowbells and “woos” from the crowd. “All right, happy 2014,” said Driscoll. “If you are zany enough to go in, please line up at the left side of the ramp. If you are planning to disrobe, now is the appropriate time.”
The group was waiting for the start of the fifth annual Freeze Your Tush Off ocean dip to benefit the Salem Food Pantry.
Like the countdown clock to 2014, Driscoll and the crowd counted down the moment for the start of the plunge. At the sound of cowbells, the crowd ran down the boat ramp, splashed about, screamed, then headed back up the boat ramp.
This was the second year the event was held at the boat ramp; it was formerly held at Juniper Cove at Salem Willows.
Three Salem firefighters stood by along with two ambulances, but they were there only as a precaution.
Those taking the shivery dip included state Rep. John Keenan, D-Salem.
“It’s exhilarating, absolutely exhilarating. I feel 10 years younger,” Keenan said after his brief swim. How did the plunge feel? “Shocking, absolutely shocking,” he said.
Other notables taking the plunge included Salem police Chief Paul Tucker, who posted a photo on Twitter of himself with his son, Dan, and daughter, Meghan, after the icy dip. Chief Tucker was one of many who took the plunge after running the Wicked Running Club’s Frosty Four 4-mile road race. A second plunge was held for runners who came over after the race.
“When it hits 80, that’s when I’ll go in, that’s what I pledge every year,” said Driscoll after the plunge was over. Her son, Nick, and his friend, Christos Meimeteas, both took the plunge for the third year in a row.
“Bad,” was Nick’s answer when asked how it went.
It was the fourth chilly plunge into Salem Harbor for Caroline Ouellette, 75, of Salem, who wore a turkey hat to illustrate that this bird was not above an ice bath.
“I’m an old turkey,” Ouellette said. Her best friend, Helen Brown of Salem, made the turkey hat for Ouellette and stood by with a heated robe. Ouellette took her first plunge two weeks after her husband, Roger, passed away.
“He died in December and I did it in January, and it’s exhilarating, it’s like a new lease on life for me, basically.” She plans to do another plunge for Special Olympics in Revere in February.
Ouellette wound up going in twice yesterday. Her brother, Al Robidoux, and other well-wishers were there to cheer her on. She raised about $200 for the food pantry.
Forrest Frazier of Salem said he tries to take the plunge every year.
“You have to help out where you can,” Frazier said. “It was cold,” he said about this year’s conditions. “It was much colder this year than it has been the last couple of years.”
Organizer Becky Christie also took a dip in the 38-degree water, which she described as “shocking.”
Since 2000, Christie has made a dip in memory of her late friend, Elizabeth Bookholz, who died in 1999. In 2009, Christie turned the tradition into one that included the mission of raising food donations and money for the Salem Food Pantry on Bridge Street.
“I don’t ever know the numbers of people, it’s hard to judge, but we’ve got some raffles and some things going on. We’ve got a ton of food from people,” said Christie, who is hoping to raise a few thousand dollars for the food pantry.
“And I hope that people learn that they can do things and pay it forward,” Christie said.
The Swampscott Yacht Club also held the seventh annual Polar Bear Plunge at Fisherman’s Beach yesterday, raising money for the Swampscott Public Library and the Haven Project.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.