Story by Nicole Murphy.
When Superstorm Sandy barreled through Long Beach last October, life on the barrier island was turned upside down as the beloved oceanfront boardwalk was torn to pieces, businesses were forced to close, and thousands were displaced from their homes, including officials of the Long Beach Polar Bear Club.
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Nevertheless, they are determined to return to a state of normalcy, even if only for one day. Despite many changes throughout the city, the club's annual Super Bowl Sunday Splash for the Make-A-Wish Foundation will be held Feb. 3, hours before the big game kicks off in New Orleans.
"People are looking to get back to the things that make our community great, " said fundraiser co-founder Mike Bradley, who has been unable to return to his Island Park residence since Sandy. "Long Beach is a hearty bunch. We're bruised, but we're not broken. We want to keep going, and we do this for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, for children who are in much more desperate situations than we are."
The annual plunge is held in honor of Bradley's son, Paulie, who lost his fight against cancer at age four in 1997. Bradley said that it has been truly overwhelming to watch the Super Bowl Splash, an event for children fighting similar battles that draws between 5,000 to 10,000 participants and spectators each year, develop into such a staple of the South Shore.
"Any parent that has lost a child, all they want is to have their child live on in some fashion," he explained. "It means everything to my family to be able to help other children fulfill wishes, to give a family a couple of days of peace and happiness through these horrible ordeals."
Fellow fundraiser founder Pete Meyer, whose Long Beach home suffered minimal damage compared to much of the city, predicts that this year's turnout will be over the top.
"It's important for the town to do this," Meyer said. "We knew right away we were going to do it and that we'd figure out the logistics later. It will really bring everyone together and I think it will be our biggest one yet. Long Beach is in the news so much lately, so I think surrounding towns will support us even more."
Meyer said that in the wake of Sandy, the organization's first instinct was to raise money for victims of the storm, but when they considered who benefits from the Make-A-Wish Foundation, they stuck with assisting the usual recipients of their good deeds.
"We thought it was most important to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation," Meyer said. "We don't want a family with a sick child to suffer more than they are. Our houses are wrecked, but that's just stuff. There's nothing more devastating than children with life threatening illnesses."
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To date, the Long Beach organization has raised more than $3 million for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, granting more than 400 wishes for children all over the country. This year, due to the ongoing demolition to the boardwalk, the Super Bowl Splash will return to its original grounds at Grand Boulevard beach, near the West End. The event is typically held at Riverside Boulevard beach at the center of town.
Meyer said that details are still under discussion with city officials, but he expects shuttle buses will be available to pick up participants throughout the barrier island, as they have each year. Parking will be a greater issue than usual in the new location, and participants are urged to car pool and arrive early.
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