PORTLAND — Tori Pelletier stood on East End Beach on Saturday, dressed in a pink-and-yellow bikini, sunglasses and a fur-lined bomber’s hat.

Shivering in the lightly falling snow and 30-degree air temperature, Pelletier said she was trying to prepare herself mentally for an icy plunge into the Atlantic Ocean.

“When I get to my stomach, that will be the worst,” said Pelletier, a Brunswick resident.

Pelletier was surrounded by 119 other scantily clad bathers trying to keep warm in the minutes leading up to Camp Sunshine’s annual Freezin’ for a Reason Portland Polar Dip.

In its fifth year, the fundraiser benefits the Casco camp, which gives children with life-threatening illnesses and their families a place to relax for a week for free. The camp on Sebago Lake is staffed almost entirely by volunteers, who offer round-the-clock medical and psychological support, along with traditional camp activities such as swimming, boating, archery and cookouts.

This year’s campaign raised $27,000, enough to increase the number of families at the camp from 750 last year to 762 this year, said Ashley Riley, event organizer. The camp has provided a retreat for 32,000 family members from 48 states and 22 countries since it opened in 1984.

“Camp Sunshine is a fantastic organization. The children and families suffer yearlong, so we can do it for a couple of minutes,” said Jeff Wilson, of Portland, who convinced three other friends, all wearing outlandish hats, to join him.

With just seconds to go, goose-bump-covered bathers crowded together on the sand, staring ahead at the 40-degree gray water, with a rescue boat bobbing in the waves 100 feet away, just in case.

Kelly Middleton and her friends Lindsay and Amanda Chateauvert, all from Wilbraham, Mass., shivered in their Ninja Turtle outfits.

A dozen or so students from University of New England’s occupational therapy program mugged for photographers while others jogged in place to keep warm.

First-time plunger Meghan Eslinger, of Kittery, received assurances from her boyfriend, Scott Batson, of Portsmouth, N.H., that he would be there to warm her with a hug after her plunge.

“I’ve always heard about Camp Sunshine, and I just wanted to try this,” Elsinger said.

The countdown began. Seconds later, bathers dashed into the water, sent up a collective bellow and barreled back into awaiting towels and blankets. The plunge was over in less than a minute.

Participants said they wouldn’t easily forget their winter dive into Casco Bay.

“It is like a slap all over your body, but exhilarating,” said Vincent Row, of Portland.

Chuck Card, of Windham, offered a similar description.

“You lose your breath,” he said.

Shay Hopkins-Paine, of Windham, said it was colder than she expected.

“It was like 10,000 itty-bitty needles sticking into you,” Hopkins-Paine said.

Spring Pillsbury, of Windham, had just one comment: “I am glad it’s over.”


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