Angie Miller, left, and Lara McClain climb out of the water at the annual New Year's Day benefit dip into Connoquenessing Creek at Harmony.
HARMONY — As is usually the case, those who jumped into the Connoquenessing Creek on New Year's Day fell into two groups: the gung-ho crowd and the “Oh-no-what-am-I-doing?” crowd. But everyone ended up equally soaked and freezing, as 56 people braved temperatures in the 20s and light snowfall Tuesday afternoon while jumping into the creek as part of Freezin' for a Reason, a polar plunge to benefit Harmony's parks and fire departments. The event raised $1,815. Participants started arriving at the Harmony Inn at 11 a.m. for a “gather your courage session,” then paraded down to the Jackson Street boat launch before jumping in at 1 p.m. Josh Hassan of New Castle, clad in a kilt, led the procession while playing bagpipes. The 25-year-old has been playing bagpipes for 14 years after being taught to play by his uncle. “I'll be playing a couple of marches, considering it's a procession ... Bonnie Dundee, Scotland the Brave, those sorts of things,” he said. “I may even take a few requests.” Hassan said he wouldn't be jumping in the creek, and the frosty weather did not help his instrument. “The weather really affects the tuning of the pipes. I use a wooden reed in there, so if it's cold or hot or humid, it can put them out of tune. Plus, of course, your fingers get cold.” Matt French of Slippery Rock was determined to jump into the frigid Connoquenessing Creek for a single reason, and not necessarily because he wanted to. “I hate the cold. I ran in the 5K here yesterday; I hate running, too,” he said. “But, I've never done this before.”
Chelsey Giardina of Portersville also took the polar plunge for the first time. “I got convinced by some friends that it was a good idea. I'm not so sure,” she said. “I'm probably just going to run in and run out. I don't plan on staying in.” But fellow first-timer Jeremy Hill of Mars planned to revel in the experience. “I'm going to just run and jump in. I'm going under, then taking a lap, then getting out and — Why not? — doing push-ups after,” he said. “This just seems like a fun thing to do to ring in the new year.” Troy Bigrigg of Ambridge said New Year's swimmers had better weather to work with last year. “It was like 48 degrees last year. This year will be a bit tougher,” he said. “But, we do it for the park and the firefighters, good causes.” Bigrigg, who plunges with a group of Harmony Inn staffers, considers a successful plunge to be full submersion, but won't dunk the waist-deep crowd. “I batter them with verbal encouragement,” he joked. “Last year, I ran and dove in and swam to the middle (of the creek) while everyone else ran out.” Mirranda Osselborn of Fombell also was a return plunger, jumping solo, as her boyfriend, who accompanied her, just finished battling pneumonia. “(The creek) was freezing last year and it definitely took my breath away. I'm terrified of this year. It's going to be a hell of a trip in,” she said. “I think I'll try to be in before everyone else, first one in and first one out.” The advantage of being the first person from the water, of course, was being first in line to receive T-shirts, refreshments and awards — for things like best costume — after the event, as well as closest to the bonfire lit for plungers.
Harmony Inn employee Chris Barnes tries to get warm in front of the fi re after plunging into the Connoquenessing Creek on Tuesday.
DAVE PRELOSKY/CRANBERRY EAGLE