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Thousands swim for charity

Legions of cold and wet benefit Make-A-Wish

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Despite 40-degree weather and gloomy skies, the Long Beach Polar Bears did what they have done for 20 years on Super Bowl Sunday — plunge into the icy Atlantic to raise funds for Make-A-Wish Metro New York, which fulfills the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses.

Thousands of participants lined Riverside Boulevard beach on Sunday for the 20th anniversary Long Beach Polar Bears Super Bowl Splash.

Among the swimmers was 7-year-old Oliver McCann, a Make-A-Wish alumnus. While in remission from pediatric cancer in 2018, Oliver was granted his wish to go to Disney World with his family, his mother, Melissa McCann, said. She added that ever since Oliver first attended the event that year, he has insisted on returning to help other kids get their wishes granted.

“To go through what they went through and to survive that and to get this amazing gift — the work that [Make-A-Wish does] is remarkable,” his mother said.

Along with his classmates and their parents from William S. Covert Elementary School in Rockville Centre, Oliver started a team — Oliver’s Super Friends — to raise money for the foundation. This year, Covert created a penny war fundraiser and raised close to $1,400 for the foundation. Overall, Oliver’s Super Friend’s raised nearly $5,000.

“He’s a huge superhero fan . . . and this year . . . his school went above and beyond,” Melissa McCann said of Oliver. “This is an amazing organization, and we are so thankful to our school and everybody who does this and fundraises for Make-A-Wish because their work is life-changing.”

Over the years, the Super Bowl Splash has raised more than $7.5 million for the foundation. This year alone, it collected more than $600,000, surpassing its goal by $100,000, according to co-founder Pete Meyers. “Long Beach is a unique community that comes together for worthy causes all the time,” Meyers said.

An estimated crowd of more than 20,000 people crowded the beach at Riverside Boulevard, with a little less than half running into the water, while others brought food, games and music. According to the National Weather Service, Sunday’s temperatures dipped below 40 degrees, but that did not appear to deter many swimmers.

The event began in 1998, when Meyers and his friend Kevin McCarthy celebrated Super Bowl Sunday with a cold swim. In 2000, they turned it into a charity event in honor of their friend Mike Bradley’s son, Paulie, who died of cancer at age 4 in 1997. Paulie’s wish, Meyers said, would have been to go to Puerto Rico and play on the beach.

The event is teased every October, when the Long Beach Polar Bears sell their coveted apparel on Irish Day. This year’s color was a gray-blue mix, and the items for sale included sweatshirts, T-shirts, hoodies, towels and hats. Meyers said that the club nearly ran out of merchandise at the event, but is still selling sweatshirts at www.longbeachpolarbears.org.

City Councilwoman Liz Treston, who has been in attendance nearly every year, praised the organizers for their commitment to a great cause. “I’m extremely proud of the work of the founding now dads and grandpas,” she said. “I’m proud of the work they do on behalf of the children that need very special wishes to come true.”

Treston stressed the importance of the event in the community. “It’s a huge community outpouring of love and kindness,” she said, “and that’s what Long Beach does best.”

Meyers and his family, the McCarthys, the Bradleys, their friends and the volunteers are usually the last people to hit the water. Meyers also applauded the effort of volunteers and supporters. “The lifeguards volunteer, and the city staff did an amazing job for this event,” he said. “We want to thank everyone who supports us.”