Wisconsin man, 82, calls 60th polar bear plunge his last

MILWAUKEE Sun Jan 1, 2012 4:42pm EST

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MILWAUKEE (Reuters) - An 82-year-old Wisconsin man made his 60th straight New Year's Day polar bear plunge into the icy waters of Lake Michigan on Sunday, but said it would be his last.

Garth Garskey, the president of the Milwaukee Polar Bear Club, said four heart stents would not allow him to continue his annual swim at Bradford Beach in Milwaukee.

"I'm getting to be an old fart. I'm done," said Garskey, wearing a white polar bear hat, who led hundreds of frolicking swimmers into the lake at noon.

The white-haired retired maintenance worker from Brookfield spent several minutes wading and splashing in the water before returning to the beach.

"I'm going up the hill to the tavern and then I'm going home to watch the Packer game," said Garskey after his last plunge as he was surrounded by friends and family.

"My dad is crazy," said his daughter Cathy Mayer of Brookfield. "Most of us come down here so dad gets out of the water."

Despite wind gusts of 35 miles per hour and temperatures hovering around 25 degrees, more than 1,000 revelers joined Garskey in the Milwaukee tradition. Many in the festive crowd drank beer or sipped from flasks. Several were dressed in costumes, such as Randall Flann, dressed as a Samurai warrior.

"I do it for a self challenge. I stay out there for 20 minutes. I sing, I dance, I act like I have the country of France in my pants," said the 56-year-old Milwaukee building manager who took the dip for the 29th straight time.

Similar New Year's Day events took place throughout the country, in places like Chicago, New York and Boston.

(Writing and reporting by Brendan O'Brien; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Cynthia Johnston)

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