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Polar Bears take dip on Breezy Point shore for hurricane relief

Photo by Christina Santucci
By Christina Santucci

For the past 13 years, hundreds have helped Annie McMahon celebrate her birthday and fund cystic fibrosis research by plunging into the icy waters off Rockaway but this year’s frigid swim also raised money for the storm-ravaged community where the event was held.

Annie, a 16-year-old resident of Westchester who spends her summers on the shore of Breezy Point, chose to give funds collected during this year’s Rockaway Plunge to recovery efforts in the community. Over the past dozen years, the event has raised more than $1 million for cystic fibrosis, which Annie suffers from.

“Every other year they have been giving back to me, but now I’m giving back to them,” the teen said as she stood beside Jamaica Bay in Breezy Point Saturday wearing a pink tiara.

Annie’s father John said the plunge started as a dare with someone offering him $100 for cystic fibrosis research if he jumped into the ocean.

At that time, Annie’s life expectancy with the disease was 18. Over the years, however, the prognosis has changed and her life expectancy now is over 36.

“We feel like we really made a difference,” he said.

The McMahon family said they credit those who took the plunge in the past for extending Annie’s life and wanted to return the favor.

“Everyone who gave all of those years, now they need it, so we are going to help them,” John McMahon said.

Specifically, donations will be directed to the Breezy Point Relief Fund and church parishes in the Rockaways so that play areas at schools can be restored after the hurricane, Annie’s mother, Theresa McMahon, said.

“A lot of the schools and the churches down here just don’t have the donations that they used to,” John McMahon said, explaining that many Rockaway residents need to spend to repair their homes. “We want to help fill their coffers up so they help build their communities back up, too.”

Some peninsula residents were among about 100 people who dipped into Jamaica Bay Saturday, but resolute souls came from all over the city and surrounding areas.

At 1:55 p.m., all of the plungers stood dressed in their bathing suits outside the The Colony Theatre. Representatives from Ridgewood Savings Bank handed out hot chocolate and cookies as spectators anxiously awaited the spectacle that would come at 2 p.m. when it was a mad rush for the chilly water.

“You get in the water. Once your head is under, you have to get out because that’s when everything starts to go haywire,” said Rockville Centre resident James McGrath, who convinced his 10-year-old old daughter Maggie to also take the plunge. McGrath sat on a wall bordering the bay as he put on his shoes and toweled off but most other participants had hurried inside the Colony to change clothes and enjoy an afternoon of music and food.

“It’s a great cause. They’ve done a lot of good through the years,” he said.

With the disease, Annie’s body does not produce enough salt and every infection stays in her lungs. The past year has been tough on the teen, who has had six hospitalizations in six months each for two- and three-week periods, Theresa McMahon said.

In addition, she was recently diagnosed with diabetes.

“It’s been a rough battle, but she is doing great today,” Theresa McMahon said. “Every day counts.”

Reach photo editor Christina Santucci by e-mail at csantucci@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4589.

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