Hundreds take Plunge into Brandywine

Fourth annual ‘Polar Plunge’ raises funds for Brandywine Valley Association

By Mike McGann, Editor,

Swimmers brave the elements — and 35-degree water — to raise money for the Brandywine Valley Association.

EAST BRADFORD — It was cold, the wind was blowing and the wind chill factor put the  feel of the chilly morning air somewhere below 20 degrees. So, of course, it was a perfect day for a dip in the Brandywine.

Hundreds of questionably sane folks disrobed and in varying degrees, took the plunge Saturday morning for a good cause. The fourth annual Polar Plunge brought hundreds of swimmers and a hundreds more spectators to help raise funds for the Brandywine Valley Association. Although the numbers were not firm, the event is expected to have raised at least as much as it did in 2010, when it pulled in around $12,000 for BVA. The first three years of the event have raised a total of $37,000.

Bob Struble, Brandywine Valley Association's Watershed Conservation Director, sports his "landshark" outfit.

The association works to improve the water quality of the local watershed — in part through its Red Streams, Blue program. BVA is also working with a number of local municipalities to help them meet new federal stormwater runoff management requirements.

Each of the swimmers had to pay a $35 fee — although many raised much more than that through getting pledges to support their frigid swim. While there were groups of students from West Chester University, West Chester Rustin High School and elsewhere, there was, as usual, a large contingent from the Unionville area. BVA also raised money through membership recruiting, raffles and donations for coffee/hot chocolate, donated by Starbucks, food as well as contests and swimmer giveaways provided by The North Face.

Unionville Superintendent of Schools Sharon Parker was a big hit in her Flotene D'Bree costume.

Unionville-Chadds Ford Superintendent of Schools Sharon Parker not only participated — she wowed in the costume contest dressed as “Flotine D’Bree,” finishing a close runner-up to Mike Murphy’s eclectic mix of a coconut-shell bra and flowered headgear, as picked by the assembled crowd. And yes, for the second straight year, Parker did make it into the Brandywine, albeit only up to about her knees. John Sanville, Unionville’s Director of Secondary Education, took the full plunge. Other notables included Longwood Rotary president Dennis Fisher.

While there were various groups participating, the age span ranged from kids to senior citizens and most seemed game to hit the 35-degree water, as a frosty wind whistled off the creek.

A swimmer celebrates making into the Brandywine, across and back, Saturday.

“I always like doing stunts,” explained 10-year-old Nick Antignani of Concord. “My mom showed me the advertisements about the plunge and I knew I had to do it.”

Dawn Stellato of Coatesville, resplendent in hearts and a bikini, said she had a number of motivations for diving in — again.

“This is my second year,” she said. “I honestly thought the water didn’t seem that cold last time. But my main reason for doing this is that my wedding anniversary is Valentine’s Day and I want to mark that — and I’m also doing this for my daughter, who is a special-needs child.”

Hearty swimmers return from the west bank of the Brandywine after braving the 35-degree water.

Hearty swimmers return from the west bank of the Brandywine after braving the 35-degree water.

Still, Stellato admits it can be pretty intense.

“Last time, I couldn’t feel my leg for two hours afterward,” she said.

More than a third of the swimmers managed to make it all the way across to the Pocopson side of the creek — and were able to claim a shirt or other swag as a prize.

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