Peter Roper, or the self-described chief polar bear, hosted the 15th annual Dip 4 Derek on New Year’s Day. The event drew several polar dippers in bathing suits and bikinis. Participants ranged in age from elementary school children to retirement-aged adults.

“Some come and I never see them again, and some I see every year,” Roper said. “… You never know how many people there are going to be until they show up.”

Proceeds go to Derek O’Brien, a quadriplegic from Rockport who has been paralyzed since 2005 when he went on vacation with friends to the New Jersey shore, dove into the ocean head-first and hit a sand bar. Six weeks later, he awoke from a coma to learn he had broken his neck and was paralyzed from the stomach down.

He since has graduated from the University of Maine in new media and is working as a video editor, striving to live as "normal" a life as possible. Friends, relatives and total strangers turn out for this annual event for his benefit.

Emily Spearin, 13, Jack Spearin, 10, and their parents all participated in the Polar Challenge for the first time this year. Jack said he was scared at first but pushed through his fear to complete the challenge, even though it was cold.

“I was scared of being frozen to death,” he said. “It was really cold.”

Jack and Emily’s stepmother Kimberly Spearin said she saw a sign for the event while driving and thought it was a good way to spring into the New Year.

“It’s always good to start the New Year off with a challenge of some kind,” Spearin said.

Pam Tibbetts has been attending the event to support O’Brien since it began in 2006. She brings her “pit crew,” which consists of family and friends, to watch her go into the water. They all go back to her house for chili after the event so she can warm her cold bones, though she is the only polar dip participant in the group.

Tibbetts said every polar dip technique is different. She likes to walk into the water up to her waist then duck under once and walk out once the initial cold shock has worn off. It helps cleanse her mind for a new year, she said.

“I go under and it takes my breath away, and the old goes out and I feel new,” Tibbetts said. “It’s a new beginning and a great way to start the New Year.”