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Start 2012 With a (Cold) Splash in Westport

WESTPORT, Conn. – Some people start the New Year with a champagne toast. Robin Myers, a partner at Westport's Team Mossman Triathlon Club, marks the New Year by taking a dip in Long Island Sound at Compo Beach.

And that's exactly what he'll be doing on the morning of Jan. 1. But Myers won't be alone Sunday — he'll be joined by about 20 to 25 other people for the ninth annual Team Mossman Polar Plunge, an event in which brave bathing-suit-clad swimmers dive into the chilly waters at Compo Beach to raise money for Save the Children, an international nonprofit based in Westport.

"To me, it's the ultimate way to start the New Year," Myers said. "Your whole body feels like it's being dumped in really cold champagne — it's tingly all over."

The event began after a group of club members was looking to do something unusual, said Myers, former club president. At first, it was just for fun. But after about two years, Myers said it evolved into a fundraising event that's open to the public.

For the event, participants dash into the water, get their head wet and run back out. "You can do it as quickly or as slowly as you like," Myers said.

For New Canaan resident Andrea Williamson-Hughes, jumping into the icy waters just once isn't enough. Hughes, a corporate secretary/deputy director at Save the Children who has participated in the event for the last five years, said she goes in at least twice. Last year, she plunged in three times.

"After the first time, your body becomes so numb it doesn't really matter," said Williamson-Hughes, 56. "It really does take your breath away. The only way to describe it is mind-numbing."

For the event, participants pay a $50 registration fee, 100 percent of which is donated to Save the Children. However, some, like Williamson-Hughes, raise more money.

Every year, Williamson-Hughes said she has raised about $1,000 by getting family and friends to sponsor her. The names of her sponsors, she added, are written on her body before the plunge so they, too, can take the plunge — symbolically, at least. This year, Williamson-Hughes said she hopes to double what she has raised in the past.

"I'm sometimes asked why I choose to spend my New Year's Day morning doing this," Williamson-Hughes said. "One, given the difficult situation facing children living in poverty worldwide every day, how hard can it be for me and others to experience a few moments of discomfort to raise funds that will ultimately help them?

"And two, since this is probably one of the more difficult — physically, at least — things I'll do all year, if I get it over with on Day One, the rest of the year will be a piece of cake."

The plunge takes place at 10 a.m. at Compo. To register for the event or for more information, visit the Team Mossman Polar Plunge website . Registration closes at 11:59 p.m. Friday. If you can't participate, but would still like to help support Save the Children, visit the club's event donation page .

Following the Mossman plunge, Westport's Temple Israel is hosting its annual Polar Bear Plunge at 11 a.m. at Compo Beach to benefit the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp , a year-round center founded by Paul Newman that serves children with cancer, sickle cell anemia, and other serious illnesses.

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