Taking the plunge

Teddy Sussman hates cold weather, but he loves a nice icy swim.

Sussman has been taking a daily swim at the harbor since Sept. 1. — Mark Lennihan

Ever since Sept. 1, 2021, retired forensic pathologist Ed (“Teddy”) Sussman has leaped from the transient dock in Menemsha into Menemsha Basin, swum out and around the frosted pilings, then hopped back into his heated car.

For the 77-year-old Islander, diving into the frigid waters is “just something to do — a way to pass the time,” but he says he enjoys it for several reasons, some of which may be surprising.

“I totally hate cold weather. Usually my partner Dana and I escape to someplace in a different hemisphere. The past eight years we have gone to New Zealand, but New Zealand is closed completely,” Sussman said. “We left New Zealand and got out with six hours to spare, on March 26, 2020, and haven’t gone anywhere since.”

In order to better deal with the frozen winter, Sussman has integrated some unusual routines into his day. The first thing he does is eat breakfast outside every morning, whether it’s a crystal-clear day when the sun is shining, or there’s a gale blowing with a real feel of single digits.

He also makes sure to get outside as much as possible during the day, and of course, does one of his daily ice swims.

Sussman said he always emphasizes getting a lot of sunlight on his body whenever he goes outside, or does one of his cold weather activities. He said this helps anyone who has experience with seasonal affective disorder, as it gets vitamin D into the blood from the sun, and simply promotes a better mood.

As opposed to going to a spa during the winter to get the necessary exposure to light, Sussman said he prefers to get outside (even if it’s a bit chilly). “It’s a lot more fun than sitting under a heat lamp, which probably isn’t good for your eyes or your skin anyway,” Sussman said. Along with a refreshing outdoor breakfast to start the day, jumping in the icy water in Menemsha is part of his regular routine. 

For Sussman, going in the water is all mental, and it’s all part of the same program to make himself forget about winter a bit. “The goal is to just put off acknowledging that winter is actually here,” Sussman laughed. “I don’t think there are any health benefits to it. I don’t do it for any purported health effects, and it always feels cold.” The only real effect the icy cold swims have on Sussman is putting a little edge of focus on his day, and waking him up a bit.

In order to prevent himself from hitting the bottom when he jumps from the dock, Sussman waits until high tide, makes sure there are no obstructions in the water, and goes for it. Waiting until high tide also allows Sussman to avoid jagged barnacles and mussels that are exposed on the foot ladder that he uses when exiting the water.

Occasionally, Sussman suits up for his swim when he sees folks running into the water down by Menemsha Beach, but only on a sunny, relatively warm day. 

He’s never seen anyone dive off the dock like he does, but he says it’s easier to just jump right in instead of wading into the water slowly. “The whole process is quick, 45 seconds maximum. It takes longer to get undressed and redressed than it does being in the water,” Sussman said. “You could stay there in the water for a while, but that’s not my goal.”

Sussman lives in Chilmark with his partner, Dana Nunes, where the two enjoy gardening and cooking, and before COVID, they would often entertain guests in their home. Sussman has three grown children, several grandchildren, and one great-granddaughter. 

“My grandkids are quite convinced that this whole swimming in winter thing is evidence that their grandfather has gone completely nuts, but it’s just something to do,” Sussman laughed. “Every day after I dive in I tell my partner, ‘Well, that’s the last time I do that foolish thing,’ but then there’s the next day.”


  1. keep it up Ted!! if you did it yesterday, you can do it today and if you can do it today you can do it tomorrow!

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