Bob Wirtshafter was leaving his yoga class at Power Yoga of Cape Cod in Harwich when he noticed his instructor, Stephanie Briody, was wearing a bathing suit as she left the studio and headed out into the December cold.
“I saw that she had her bathing suit on after yoga and I said, ‘Where are you going?’” recalls Wirtshafter, a Chatham resident. “She said, ‘Oh, I’m going to do an ocean dip’ and I said, ‘Oh, I’ll come with you.’”
Wirtshafter was no stranger to cold water. For years, he did an annual polar plunge in Michigan to help his sister raise money for her job for the Special Olympics. After talking with Briody, who’s also a Chatham resident, Wirtshafter discovered she was doing the polar plunges to raise money for RecoveryBuild Alternative Peer Group for Teens, often referred to as RecoveryBuild APG.
Briody co-founded RecoveryBuild APG and serves as the CEO of the program, which was designed for teenagers recovering from substance abuse who are searching for a like-minded friend group with good attitudes, strong values and proper judgment and behavior. When the group is able to meet in person, meetings are held at PIER Recovery Center in Hyannis.
Once Wirtshafter learned that Briody’s plunges were in an effort to raise money for RecoveryBuild, he quickly realized he could help.
“Once I recognized why she was doing it, I said, ‘I could help you raise some money,’” he said.
At first, Wirtshafter intended to do 25 plunges last year, though that number eventually grew to 67 to match his age. He promoted the fundraiser online and shared the story on his social media accounts and ultimately raised $23,000 for RecoveryBuild.
The story only begins there, however.
After deciding he’d take 68 plunges this year — adding one more from last year’s total to signify being a year older — Wirtshafter received the devastating news that Jamie McGahran, the 25-year-old son of one of his close friends from Pennsylvania, died of a drug overdose on New Years Eve.
That raised the ante for Wirtshafter, who decided he’d honor McGahran by adding 25 more plunges to the 68 he had planned, bringing his total to 93.
Wirtshafter wasn’t alone when he made his 93 rd plunge of the season on March 11 at Glendon Road Beach in Dennis. He was accompanied by Briody and her son, Patrick, as well as Talia Arone of West Harwich, Nikki Coates of West Yarmouth, Tyler Bridges of Barnstable and Jen Plusch of Eastham, all of whom were there to support Wirtshafter, Briody and RecoveryBuild APG.
The group lucked out — the temperature outside was a manageable 44 degrees when they walked into the ocean.
“This feels like summer,” said Arone, who added that she’s plunged all but five days since January. “It also feels full circle in a way when it comes to this time of year. When it’s nice and calm and mild, it feels like a sense of completion. It feels great.”
While most of the group was quick to return to the beach after dunking their heads underwater, Wirtshafter lingered a little longer and swam for a few minutes.
“I enjoy swimming,” he said when he returned to shore. “It’s refreshing. I do remember the first time I did it, it takes your breath away. Eventually your body gets cold after a while, but if you’re moving around and you’re swimming, it’s OK. I probably could’ve lasted another 30 seconds or so.”
Wirtshafter said he visited different beaches throughout his 93 plunges and only took a couple days off. He’s quick to point out his absences had nothing to do with the cold weather the Cape experienced this winter.
“I was able to do it virtually every day because of the fact I didn’t travel this winter,” he said. “I did it on all of the cold days, but there were some days that I was just lazy.” Wirtshafter’s fundraising total stands at $27,669 as of press time, bringing his two-year total to more than $50,000 raised for RecoveryBuild. Those interested in learning more about his plunges or donating can visit his donation page by typing bit.ly/3qQqBQn into your web browser.
“Bob’s an inspiration on so many levels,” Briody said. “We’re doing something hard every day during the winter just to show the kids you can do it. It’s hard — we get it.”
Visit recoverybuild.org for more information about RecoveryBuild APG.
Email Brad Joyal at email@example.com