This story was written by Nicole Guzzardi

Thousands of people gathered at Long Beach on Super Bowl Sunday, daring to dive into the bone-chilling water as part of the town’s annual Polar Bear Super Bowl Splash in Long Beach, Long Island.

And splash they did. Of the almost 10,000 in attendance, about 4,000 thrill seekers rushed the waters to have a little pre-Super Bowl fun and raise money for the Make a Wish Foundation, an organization that grants wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses.

As the sun glistened down on huddles of people waiting to take the plunge in 40 degree weather, Make a Wish Foundation volunteers walked up and down selling merchandise on the beach.

Melissa Raffaele, 25, a volunteer from Long Island, sold bracelets and magnets to the crowd, and though she wasn’t taking the dive herself, she was excited to see the massive turnout.

“I am not plunging, because it’s cold,” she said with a laugh, “But I think its great that all these people are plunging and donating.”

Despite the weather being unusually warm for early February, many testified as to just how cold the water really was: the low 40s, plungers said.

First-time attendees Cory Dennis 23, and Dan Butera, 24, donned bathing suits with winter hats and gloves as they stood on the boardwalk attempting to warm up after their chilling swim.

The two men, both of Suffolk County, decided to take the plunge to help train for an upcoming Tough Mudder, an endurance event in which participants must tackle extreme obstacles like water and fire.

“I’m regaining feeling in my feet and hands,” Butera said, while drying on the boardwalk after the plunge.

Neither of their favorite football teams made it to the Super Bowl, so the men decided they would cheer on the New York Giants by default. Next on the agenda for the two was to go watch the game.

And they didn’t waste much time wading in the water either.

“We were in for 25 seconds, we clocked it,” Dennis said.

The first Super Bowl Splash began in 1999 in memory of 4-year-old Paulie Bradley, who died of bone cancer.

Patsy Bradley, Paulie’s aunt, 57, of Long Beach, Long Island, has helped run the event ever since it began.

She said her brother Michael was looking for a way to honor his son. He joined his friends, Kevin McCarthy and Pete Myers, who decided to take a winter swim.

“They were sitting around one morning on Super Bowl Sunday, waiting to watch the game, so they decided they were going to go in the water,” she said.

Michael joined them, and afterward the men decided they would take the swim every year to honor Paulie and in support of the Make a Wish Foundation, she said. And so, what would turn out to be an annual extravaganza began.

“I’ve been here every year, I do not go in the water though,” Bradley said, “The rest of the family does, but not I. I’m the one in charge of the money.”

Bradley’s post plunge plans were to join her family in watching the Super Bowl. When asked whom she was rooting for, she replied, “Oh, the Giants!”

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