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Thousands Start 2020 With A Splash At 116th Annual Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The new year kicked off Wednesday with thousands of people jumping in the ocean to mark the 116th annual Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge.

"The amateurs and tourists go to Time Square, but real New Yorkers are showing up here on the beach today," Polar Bear Club president Dennis Thomas told CBS2's Charlie Cooper.

Nearly 4,000 people dressed in much less than what the cold weather calls for waited eagerly on Coney Island's boardwalk to jump into the Atlantic. Some were first timers.

"I'm ready to just run in," participant Salvator Cimino said.

Others have done it for decades and came with a game plan.

"I put Vaseline all over my body. Then I put suntan lotion because if the sun's out you feel like it's the summer," Jon Rosenblum said.

The Coney Island Polar Bear Club was founded in 1903. It's the oldest winter bathing organization in the country. Members swim every Sunday from November to April, when the rest of us are probably hiding out from the cold.

With lifeguards and rescue crews around for safety on Wednesday, the thrill seekers were ready to dive in, despite the 40-degree temperatures.

"No preparation. Just go in and it's not as bad as you think," Alex Break said.

"It was exhilarating. It was like being reborn. It was a great way to start the new year," Tamara Walker said.

"I can't feel below my waste. It's like an epidural. I can give birth right now," Alana Hansh added.

"I went in once. I went in twice and I'm about to go in a third time," Hannah Simpson said.

The participants said the wet and wild plunge was well worth it, as it raised money for Coney Island nonprofits.

"This year we're partnering with the Alliance for Coney Island and proceeds will go to them, the aquarium, Coney Island USA, the Coney Island History Project and a number of other smaller nonprofits within the community," Thomas said.

"We held on to each other and we went in there and we conquered," another participant said.

Swimmers and organizers agree that the Plunge is exactly the kind of liquid courage they needed to dive into the new year.

By the end of the event, the Coney Island Polar Bear Club exceeded its $80,000 fundraising goal.

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