Although his primary claim to fame is his role as an accordion virtuoso and the long-time host (since 1987) of WUNH Radio's beloved Polka Party show, Gary Sredzienski is a man of many passions. Among them, year-round swimming and lighthouses. On Feb. 26 he had a chance to combine all three of these devotions when he performed an amazing three-mile, mid-winter "Swim for the Lights" from Odiorne Point in Rye to the Kittery Town Dock, passing his two favorite lighthouses, Whaleback and Portsmouth Harbor, along the way. His goal was to raise $10,000 for much-needed preservation funds for the lights. The swim ended with a party in Kittery. Visit www.lighthousefoundation.org for more information on the swim and an easy link to donate to the cause.Is this your first time pulling a daredevil stunt like this? No, not at all. And I don't call myself a daredevil, but this is my lifestyle. This is my fourth winter charity swim. In 2008 I was the first human to swim from Portsmouth to the Isles of Shoals in winter - for the Krempels Brain Injury Foundation and Stepping Stones of Portsmouth. Everyone thought I was nuts and didn't believe I'd do it so the money came after the swim. We made $17,000.How do you prepare? Is it dangerous? You have to do it regularly to acclimate your body to water temperatures that reach the upper 20s. I don't recommend this to anyone. You can easily get killed training in the estuaries because large sheets of ice the size of football fields rage out with the tide. Hypothermia can easily set in. I like to train three hours after high tide when the water rages out. I swim against the current and the water gets to be two to three feet deep - it's the absolute coldest temperatures at that depth. Even the silt is frozen on the bottom.Are there any advantages to swimming in the winter? Big time: no boats, no jet skis, miles upon miles of estuaries that are all mine. Bacteria levels are down. I hate to say it but now and then I get sores from polluted water in warmer water temperatures. All the bull sharks and white sharks are gone, but the Greenland shark could very well be here. No one really knows! The best thing is that the ground is frozen so runoff is at a minimum making the water crystal clear. I see everything as clear as day this time of year and it's unbelievable what I find.You are playing with your band the Serfs after the swim. Have you composed anything special? I wrote several creek-related tunes. One about the seals who check me out when I swim. I write music all the time. I have music on all the TV networks: ABC's "Dirty Sexy Money," NBC's "Philanthropist" and movies like "Meet Dave" with Eddie Murphy and "The A-Team" this past summer. Do lighthouses provide good acoustics for accordion music? What a match made in heaven. If you could only hear an old accordion playing Irish and Scottish reels in a tower of brick 50 feet high.
This article appears in the March 2011 issue of New Hampshire Magazine