George LoCascio can’t get enough of the frigid Atlantic.
While hundreds typically turn out at South Boston’s Curley Community Center to shake off their New Year’s Day hangovers each year with a cold and brazen swim in the harbor. LoCascio, is different. He doesn’t swim off in the waters at the bottom of L Street as part of some New Year’s resolution. He actually likes it. He tries to do it every day. Yes, every day.
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“The coldest the water’s been when I’m in it was 28,” said the 63-year-old semi-retired grandfather of two who grew up in Southie’s D Street projects. “Saltwater doesn’t start icing up until about 25.”
He uses a fishing pole to cast a thermometer to take the temperature of the water before he makes the plunge. He usually swims about 30 to 40 yards and then comes back in and heads straight for the community center steam room.
“I’ve been doing this for the last 15 years and I haven’t been sick in 15 years,” he said. “I think the body gets immune.”
Last year, about 600 polar bears took the New Year’s swim in the ocean, an event that’s organized by the center, and benefits local charities. This year, the center expects a similar crowd.
LoCascio, who is part of the group that styles itself as the “L Street Brownies” – people who swim year round in the harbor -- is not alone.
“It doesn’t sound normal but you build up a tolerance,” said Jack Dever, a 75-year-old retired school teacher who grew up in South Boston and now lives in Hull. “The secret is you don’t stay in too long.”
Dever usually does about 10 strokes, then gets out. He was swimming in the bay until October, when a problem with his ear forced him to stop.
“You do feel refreshed,” he said. “The best thing is getting out of the cold water and getting in the hot shower.”
He claims the L Street Brownies were the first group in the country to take chilly dips on a regular basis.
“It started in 1901. Others have followed us,” he said.
South Boston native Scott Dalrymple, a 52-year-old custodian at the center, says for the past 12 years, he’s tried to swim a mile in the ocean every day. He went in during Hurricane Sandy and says he has broken through ice to swim a quarter-mile.
“My skin was frozen and all wrinkled up,” he said. “You can’t go in the shower right after that.”
Dalrymple said he grew up watching the brownies – who would be tan all year because of their proclivity for the ocean and beach – and just followed suit.
“You go on the beach or sit in that dug-out and it clears your head and you can get your sun,” he said. “L Street is a routine, it’s like a spa.”