KENNEBUNK — A stiff breeze and air temperature around 20 degrees didn’t prevent 75 or so devoted fundraisers from racing into the surf here Wednesday morning for the Atlantic Plunge to benefit Caring Unlimited.

The numbing conditions at Mother’s Beach, and the 42-degree ocean temperature, kept turnout lower than on some past New Year’s Days, but the level of enthusiasm made up for it. Some participants wanted to go back in for a second plunge, but the extreme weather led organizers to declare no “double-dipping.”

“The last couple of years have been warm, but today reminds us it’s January,” said Emily Gormley, the group’s public awareness coordinator.

In its 13th year, the Atlantic Plunge now is a sustaining source of funding for the programs and services provided by York County’s only domestic violence resource center. In some years it raises $20,000.

This year, participants and their supporters milled around, drinking hot chocolate and trying to stay warm until the 11 a.m. start time. A school bus, its heater running, served as a staging area and respite from the cold.

The event has blossomed since 2001, when Kennebunkport resident Becky Wirtes decided she wanted to take a dip in the ocean to celebrate the new year and was looking to raise money for a local cause. Eight people joined her that time, collecting $2,000.


Preparing to disrobe on Wednesday, Wirtes agreed that the blustery, cold day, combined with a change of location from nearby Gooch’s Beach because of the astronomical high tide, kept some people away.

“We’ve had bigger years,” she said.

But the plunge also attracted some new folks.

Linda Walton of Saco stood on the beach, reluctant to throw off her mink coat.

Why was she there?

“It’s on my bucket list,” she said. “And after I do it, I’ll probably kick the bucket.”


Promptly at 11 a.m., Walton and the others ran into the water. Most lingered only moments before sprinting landward toward towels, blankets and heavy clothing. But a few were hardly shivering.

“It’s fun,” said John Bement of Kennebunk, who has taken the plunge for several years. “It’s for a great cause and it’s a good adrenaline activity.”

Walton, who ran in alongside two nephews, was asked how she felt after emerging from the water.

“I’m numb, so I can’t tell you. But it’s been a lifelong dream,” she said.

Caring Unlimited serves about 3,000 people a year with a 24-hour hotline, emergency shelter, transitional housing and legal advocacy.

Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at:

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