Swimmers of All Ages Dip into the Frigid Hudson to Test Their Mettle

What better time for a dip in the Hudson River than late January? At least, that was the thinking of dozens of swimmers who looked to conquer the icy waters off the coast of Manhattan Saturday, as NY1's Bree Driscoll reports.

The Hudson River sits dark and icy with snow drifts dotting the shore. The water temperature is a mere 35 degrees with the wind gusting. Perfect for a swim.

With no apprehension, no second thoughts and no wetsuits swimmers take to the water. 

"You feel like you have frozen fingers like frozen sausages," said swimmer Melissa O'Reilly. 

More than 60 swimmers took part in the First National Winter Swimming Championships Saturday at La Marina in Inwood.  Just one week after a blizzard enveloped the City. 

"The water temperature is usually freezing as possible so we are very happy that the Hudson River is cold now today," said Mariia Yrjö-Koskinen, President of the International Winter Swimming Association.

And then there is the fact that it is the Hudson River.

"You just kind of keep your mouth shut and just go for it," O'Reilly said.

"The Hudson is not that yucky," said Cristian Vergara, President of the U.S. Winter Swimming Association. "It is becoming cleaner."

There are 7 different events with swimmers ranging in age from 80 to just 10 years old.

"And then I was like let me just do this and I'll try it and tell my kids about it one day," said swimmer Olivia Bradley.

But it raises the question — are they swimming for exercise, the thrill or because they are downright crazy? For this group it is all of the above.

"Many people do it for health reasons," Yrjö-Koskinen said.

"I love the challenge," said swimmer Jackie Cobell. "I like a goal in my life. It is better than sitting at home knitting isn't it."

Organizers tell me the only way to understand the sport is experience it for myself and be out in the elements. That's crazy! I am cold just watching them.

"It sounds crazy until you try it and then you feel the feeling and it is very addictive," said swimmer Jaimie Monahan.

"Once you try it you never go back," said Vergara.

The sport has a large following internationally, popular in countries like Finland and Russia. But don't think the United States is being iced out of the fun. Organizers say the sport's popularity is growing here, and more events like this are planned for the future.

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