Many firsts for First Day 2012

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OCEAN CITY — Noel Wirth has never been one to back down from a challenge, so when she saw a weather forecast promising sunshine and a high in the 50s for New Years Day, she figured this was the year to try First Dip, the centerpiece of Ocean City’s popular First Day at the beach.

Wirth, in her 70s, was one of more than 600 people to take the icy plunge Sunday afternoon.

“It wasn’t that bad,” Wirth said.

In fact, it was pretty awesome. She said a rush of adrenaline and the energy from the enormous crowd made the whole experience pretty exciting.

“I firmly believe that you have to try something once in your lifetime. I did a triathlon once, so why not this?” she said. “It didn’t really feel that cold. I got past my knees and I would’ve gone further, but the crowd started running back in.”

First Dip has long been on her bucket list, the Ocean City resident said.

“So if I didn’t do it this year, with the weather this nice, when was I going to get around to it?” she said.

Her son, Karl, said his tough and determined mother inspired him.

“I may try it next year. If she can do it, I guess I can, too,” he said.

City publicist Mark Soifer said nearly 30,000 spectators crowded the beach and lined the boardwalk and Music Pier veranda to watch the eager dippers run in – and then quickly out – of the ocean.

“It was an exciting day,” he said. “Between the bathers and the runners, it was very entertaining. We couldn’t have asked for nicer weather.”

First Dip was preceded by First Run. The 18th annual running event attracted a record 800 runners.

“We had such tremendous weather today, it’s just unbelievable,” said First Run race director Mike Givens.

Sponsored by the Runaway Athletic Club, the event began as a “predicted time” race on New Year’s Eve.

“It started at midnight, with 30 people the first year,” Givens said.

He said runners predicted their times and, sans a watch or timing device, tried their best to finish as close to their predicted time as possible. After a few years, the race was folded into First Night and became part of First Day at the beach for the 2000 celebration.

“It’s grown every year and this year was the biggest by far,” Givens said. “We doubled our expectations. It was just a huge crowd, like the middle of the summer on Fourth of July. Look at the boardwalk, I’ve never seen this many people up here in the middle of the winter.”

Runaway AC, he said, is happy to be involved with First Night and First Day, as all proceeds from the race are donated to local charities.

“It’s a great event, and we’re proud to be involved,” he said. “It’s a huge effort for our little running club, we’re an all-volunteer organization and we do it the old-fashioned way.”

Registration forms and running bibs are not computerized; Givens said the hand-made effort helps keep costs down and donations up.

“It was a lot of people to process,” he said. “They just kept coming. Everyone wanted to be a part of it.”

Miles Schoedler, a 2011 Ocean City High School graduate who now competes for Georgetown University, finished the 5K first in 16:12, followed by five OCHS Red Raiders, some current competitors and some alumni. Steve Hoffman finished in 16:49, Jeff Raab in 17:07, Dan Murray in 17:46, Andrew DiMaria in 18:21 and D.J. Gilhooley in 18:22.

“It looked like an alumni run,” Givens said. “It was neat to see that six of the top 10 finishers were Ocean City kids. We had a huge number of people running, just amazing. There were thousands of people on the boardwalk watching the race.”

The first three women to cross the line were 45-year-old Martha Grinnell in 18:54, Robyn Evangelist in 19:14 and Katie Jancwicz in 20:31.

A leisurely, relaxing pace turned into a real competition for Tom Heist IV when a group of friends powered their way through the crowd, resting on his heels.

“My friends motivated me to work a little harder, push myself,” he said. “It was stiff competition. There were a lot of really fast runners in the race.

“I’m not surprised that so many people came out, it’s like a summer day up here,” he said. “It’s just awesome to see this many people. It makes me long for summer.”

A new event, Clam Drain added to the excitement. The competition is based on shell tossing and was devised by Joe McGettigan, according to Soifer, and features hand-molded shells.

People began gathering at the Music Pier before noon on Sunday. Susan Rosenthal was in awe of the Ocean City experience; First Day was a first for her on many levels; it was her first-ever dip in the Atlantic Ocean, not just in 2012.

A transplant from the Seattle, Wash. Area, she now lives in Philadelphia and came to visit a cousin in Ocean City.

“I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to swim in the ocean for the first time,” she said. “It was so much fun. I love the East Coast and I love the ocean. Ocean City is a great town, I’m really looking forward to coming back in the summer when the water is a little warmer, but it was fun. What a way to celebrate the New Year!”

Kathy Hunter said she wouldn’t miss a First Dip event.

“I don’t care about the weather, I just think it’s a really neat way to start the New Year,” she said. “Sure it’s more fun when it’s nice, but no matter what the ocean is going to be cold, so what’s the difference? It’s just so invigorating, the crowd, the excitement. I just love to do this. Of course, who wouldn’t want to be in Ocean City? We always have a great time here on New Year’s Eve.”

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