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One last plunge into Roslyn Lake

by: File photo, About 30 people braved January temperatures to dive into Roslyn Lake during last year's Polar Bear Dip.

Ahhh, New Year's Day: the throbbing head, the cozy sweatpants, the nap in front of ESPN, the leap into a frigid lake - say what?

For the past 15 years, an intrepid group has rung out the old with a plunge into Roslyn Lake's chilly waters.

Begun in 1992 by Dr. Ed Alstat and a handful of hardy revelers, the Annual Polar Bear Dip grew to more than 30 participants in 2006.

'We're shooting for 100 this year,' says Alstat, co-founder of Sandy's Eclectic Institute.

Alstat's farm is close to the lake, and he says he hatched the idea because 'the lake was there and I'm a naturopathic doctor; it's a healthy thing to do.'

He describes the physiological process that occurs after a quick winter's swim: 'A short blast of cold causes the arteries on the surface of the skin to contract, and this drives the blood backward into the internal organs, engorging them with blood.'

When you start to warm up, the blood returns to the skin, and this flushing effect actually 'dislodges the junk that's stuck,' he says.

An 1886 bestseller, 'The Water Cure,' prescribed a month-long regimen of daily cold-water dips for blood pressure stabilization, enhanced immunity, pain reduction and mood improvement.

While a single plunge doesn't promise all that, participants do report major mood boosts.

'It gives you a good kick and wakes you up,' says Alstat's wife, Christine. 'It's like a natural adrenaline rush.'

'It washes away the last year,' Eclectic Institute's Courtney Rowe adds.

Says Angie Kelly, a Karlsson Brewing bartender: 'It's a blast.'

Kelly handed out fliers for the Polar Bear Dip as she wiped down the bar a few nights ago. She, along with several employees and regulars at the pub, made her first plunge last year.

'It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be,' she says. 'But I still had to tell my arm to move in order to get back to the dock.'

This year's event is billed as a 'farewell salute.' Because Roslyn Lake will be drained next summer, this is the last Polar Bear Dip to take place in its well-loved waters. One pub customer started to reminisce about visiting the lake with his grandfather and decided he would grit his teeth and jump in as a way to say goodbye.

Plans are under way to find a new location for 2008.

The all-ages group will gather promptly at noon on New Year's Day.

'We're strict. People really don't want to stand around waiting,' Alstat says.