200 fearless souls take part in frigid L Street Brownies swim in South Boston

Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

Mike Breidenbach, of Dracut, celebrated his 52nd birthday by taking the plunge during the Brownies’ annual swim.

By Globe Correspondent 

The first morning of 2018 was sunny and cloudless in Boston, but with a temperature about 1 degree above zero, it was not what most people consider beach weather.

For 200 or so brave souls, though, it was a day to step out onto the sand and — at least briefly — into the frigid waters of Boston Harbor at the annual L Street Brownies New Year’s Day Swim.


Monday marked the fifth trip into the bitterly cold brine for 17-year-old Ariana Farr, of Lunenburg, who got the idea after her grandmother’s death, when she found a shirt from one of many “polar bear plunges” the matriarch had done.

But — important distinction — her grandmother lived and plunged in Florida.

Still, after the teen emerged from the tides, she said she had no regrets.

“I can’t feel my feet, but [I feel] great!” she said.

Her proud mother, Jenny Farr, said, “It’s pretty fantastic, and hey, great thing to put on your college résumé.” She said it was one of many challenges Ariana plans to tackle, including the Boston Marathon and Mount Everest.


Barry Jennings of South Boston, dove in with his wife, son, and daughter, a tradition their family has observed for 20 years, he said.

“Every year it gets colder,” Jennings said. “And I’m getting older, which makes it colder.“

The temperature in the water Monday morning was 44 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. Many swimmers said they felt colder after getting out of the water than while they were in it.

Jennings’s son Conor, 26, said he’d been going in since he was 6 or 7, though he has missed some years.

“I can’t feel any of my toes right now,” Conor Jennings said.

Steve Sheerin, 52, of Bolton, went into the water carrying his childhood friend, Erik Kondo, also 52, of Lexington. Kondo sustained a spinal cord injury in a motorcycle accident at 19, he said, and uses a wheelchair.


Kondo came up with the idea to participate about nine years ago, he said, and every year he and Sheerin come with a group of buddies.

“This is a tradition,” Kondo said. “It’s a good way to start off the year.”

Sheerin joked that he asks Kondo every year if they can skip the frigid dive.

“I keep trying to get out of it, but he won’t let me,” Sheerin said. “I wouldn’t be here if he didn’t guilt me into it.”

Dan Monahan, interim director of the Curley Community Center, where the plunge takes place, estimated that last year about 1,600 people attended, and about 500 jumped in the harbor. This year, he said, only 800 or 900 turned up, and maybe 250 went into the water.

Other plunges up and down the coast were canceled because of the extreme cold that has gripped the region since Tuesday, but the Brownies — who say their New Year’s swim is the country’s oldest — have never canceled, in more than 100 years, Monahan said.

Inside the center before the swim, participants stripped down to swimsuits, slipped into costumes, posed for group photos — and signed liability waivers.

A group of men chanted, “Let’s go swimming! Let’s go swimming!” as they charged onto the sand. Another man cried out, “We’re going to die!”

Out on the beach, Ernie Moreau, 52, of Framingham, yelled, “It’s off my bucket list! I’m never going in again.”

Moreau swam two years ago, he said, but on Monday he was there to cheer on fellow supporters of Spectrum for Hope, which provides support to families with two or more children who have special needs. It’s one of many charities that use the swim to help raise money.

“I dove in, and I popped up like 20 yards offshore,” Moreau recalled of his 2016 plunge. “I didn’t know how far out I went, so I was swimming back, I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I’m not going to make it. This is awful.’ I was not so smart.”

Bob Murphy, 59, of Holliston, who was also supporting Spectrum for Hope, emerged dripping and shivering.

“It’s a very good cause,” he said. “Last year we raised over $8,500 for them. We’re going to try to match or beat that this year.”

Monday was the first trip into the icy water for Christy Lea, 50, of Dracut, who dressed as Batwoman. But it was the 10th wintry swim for her fiancé, Mike Breidenbach, also of Dracut, who was celebrating his 52nd birthday Monday and had dressed as Superman.

Breidenbach said it was “a good way to start off the year. . . . If you can do this, you can do anything.”

Lea said experiencing the chill with Breidenbach was symbolic.

“If he’s willing to take the plunge and marry me, I’m willing to take the plunge with him and be by his side on this,” she said.

Breidenbach’s 9-year-old daughter, Lily, said she had tried to dissuade her father.

“I said, ‘It’s too cold. I don’t want you to go out because then you’re going to get frostbite,’ ” she said. “He didn’t listen.”

Jeremy C Fox can be reached at