Taking the Plunge in the New Year

In 1966 Mao Zedong took a legendary swim in the Yangtze river. The famous swim came on the eve of the Cultural Revolution and was meant to show that Mao was still a leader with great vitality and strength, and among other things, vigorously healthy. And here in New York hundreds of swimmers braved the winter's cold to plunge into the icy seas off Coney Island, presumably for the same reasons... Officially they are known as the Coney Island Polar Bear Club, and they encourage swimmers to donate to New York Cares and Camp Sunshine, which helps children with life-threatening illnesses.

The club swims in the Atlantic Ocean at Coney Island every Sunday from November through April.

(Photos by Brian Harkin/Getty Images)