ALEXANDRIA BAY — The annual plunge into the freezing cold St. Lawrence River is going brrr-tual this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year, River Hospital’s 30th annual Polar Bear Dip raised more than $100,000 — a new record. The Feb. 29, 2020, event took place just two weeks before the novel coronavirus took hold of the state and nation. This year, the Friends of River Hospital will hold the first-ever Brrr-tual Polar Bear Dip next month to keep the tradition going amid pandemic gathering restrictions.

Dippers younger than the age of 18 can participate — another first this year.

“We just really wanted to keep the momentum going and keep people connected,” said Stephanie Weiss, executive director of development. “We knew we had to do it safely and like so many other things, we just decided to take it virtual.”

She also said raising funds for the hospital is more important than ever as the pandemic continues to keep a hold on the health care industry.

This year, the minimum donation goal to participate is $50 for dippers ages 18 and up. For those under 18, there is no fundraising requirements to join the fun. Once registered online, dippers can start planning their virtual dip.

Everyone is encouraged to use their imagination — taking an ice bath in swimsuits or costumes, having a water balloon fight in the snow or even sprinkler runs. Everything qualifies, except jumping into a body of water, and people can participate from anywhere.

Participants will photograph or record video of their dip, send it to River Hospital and share their dips and fundraising goals with friends and family during the month of February. The final event, to include participant submissions and a virtual judging party, will be held online Feb. 27.

“It presents an interesting opportunity for people to do this from anywhere and still be involved,” Ms. Weiss said. “We’re excited about the fact that we can expand a little bit into different geographic areas and different age groups too, just to make it a little bit more community oriented and accessible to everybody.”

Proceeds from this year’s event will be used to purchase an echocardiogram for River Hospital’s newly renovated Cardiopulmonary Department.

Dr. Aaron Campbell, of inpatient and emergency services at River Hospital, said that to have an echocardiogram would allow an extra tool to diagnose and direct treatment toward patients who may have any kind of cardiovascular issue — or even pulmonary issues.

“This would not only help me to be able to direct care, but it would also allow me to be able to keep patients in their own community where their family and loved ones are and to be able to treat them more confidently,” Dr. Campbell said.

Friends of River Hospital, like in past years, is asking people to reach out to friends and family to be sponsored as a way to raise money. This fundraiser is a big deal for the hospital, Ms. Weiss said, and its 30-year cumulative total is more than $1 million.

The echocardiogram costs $100,000. The goal for the Polar Bear Dip event is $50,000, but Ms. Weiss said they would love to be able to cover the whole cost of the equipment from the event.

For additional details on how to participate in the Brrr-tual Polar Bear Dip, visit the event’s page at or find River Hospital on Facebook. Those interested may also contact Friends of River Hospital by e-mail at, or by phone at 315-482-4976 with any questions.

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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