‘Our way of taking back the beach’

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The event also served as a homecoming for many Long Beach residents who remain displaced since the storm. “It’s a beautiful thing,” Tom Labruzzi said of coming back and seeing the crowd. Labruzzi is a former Roosevelt Boulevard resident who has been living in Baldwin since late October.

“I wanted to make a point to get here to support the Long Beach community,” said Rockaway resident Tome Browne, who has was forced to abandon his beachside community for Manhattan. “I used to live here. I love it here.”

Christine McGuigan, of Long Beach, who said she is known around town as “hippie chick,” recently returned after being forced out her home. “This is our way of taking back the beach,” she said. “It’s not about anger, it’s about paying respect to the ocean. It’s an homage to mother nature.”

Pete Meyers, co-founder of the Long Beach Polar Club, shared that sentiment. “We wanted to make peace with the ocean,” he said.

The event benefited Make-A-Wish, which grants children with life-threatening illnesses once-in-a-lifetime wishes. Since the Splash became a fundraiser, it has helped grant the wishes of more than 300 kids. Its inspiration was Long Beacher Paulie Bradley, who died of cancer at age 4 in 1997.

A local “wish kid,” Connor Troy of Long Beach, and his family came to the event to thank the Polar Bear Club. “I never thought that, 12 years ago, when I first did polar bears, someone in my family would benefit from this wonderful Long Beach tradition,” Connor’s mother, Kerry Ann Troy, told the crowd as Connor sat, smiling, at her side.

She explained that he was born with a neurological disease that inhibited his ability to walk, and was accompanied by a host of additional medical problems. Connor’s wish was to meet Kermit the frog and the Muppets, so Make-A-Wish set up a trip to Disney World for Connor and his family. The trip was set for November, but after Sandy hit, the Troys were faced with a difficult decision.

“I thought about canceling the trip because we had so many things to think about — a safe place to live, how we’d rebuild, Connor’s health and safety,” his mother said. “But how could I cancel?” she said.

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