As winter cold bites deep, what are known to be the saddest months of the year in New England are the total opposite for the Wolf Pack.
As they embrace the winter months, the Marblehead Wolf Pack- a community of like-minded locals and non-locals – take a dip twice a week on weather conditions the majority of New Englanders would demur.
For KyAnn Anderson-McKernan, co-founder of the Wolf Pack, it’s all about the challenge.
“I would argue that many people crave challenges, or they are drawn to a challenge, but they’re a little reluctant,” Anderson-McKernan said. “They are more apt to approach the challenge if they do so and they feel supported in the process.”
The group started as a duo when Anderson-McKernan and her husband Brendan McKernan started dipping during the heights of the pandemic in November of 2021, after Brendan received a book from his sister called What Doesn’t Kill Us by Scott Carney.
The book focuses on how the evolution of mankind has deteriorated people, who got softer over time with all the modern amenities. It argues that exposing your body to various kinds of stresses helps improve overall health and longevity.
Anderson-McKernan is a two-time breast cancer survivor and her husband suffers from chronic back pain. They found cold water dipping the right activity for their health concerns.
“Cancer makes you just really want to strive to be a healthier person and a present person and doing things that can kind of resonate with other people and kind of have a ripple effect with their health,” said Anderson-McKernan. “I mean, if that’s the one thing that comes out of this, and that a lot of people have some really warm blue beanies with our logo on it, I think we’ve done what we’ve set out to do.”
According to Anderson-McKernan, cold water dipping has many health benefits; it even addresses the mental health crisis that arose from the COVID-19 pandemic, and we New Englanders, who experience seasonal depression, can experience the health benefits of cold water dipping.
“We had someone that was going through life changes and was about to go on some medicine and ended up that they didn’t need it,” said Anderson-McKernan.
“We’ve had people that have either had sick parents or tragic things happen with them and this has been an outlet for them,” she added. “This has given them a sense to get up to come to the beach and to get through those times”
For Millice Kane, being a part of the Wolf Pack community has helped her cope with the loss of her husband, who passed away two years ago.
“We moved up here during COVID and I didn’t have any friends in my age group. Now, these gals, a couple of them will call and say ‘Hey we are going to go out for dinner, would you like to go with us?’ and I can say yes or no,” Kane said. “Family is great, but you need to be with other people that aren’t related to you so you can talk about other things. It keeps your brain going.”
“The people are so loving and welcoming, they are all ages,” she added.
Kane is 80 years old, one of the oldest members of the Wolf Pack community, where members range in age from 20 to 80-years-old.
“I was always sort of a wallflower. I’m not comfortable with new social situations, and this has just made me more comfortable because I don’t know a lot of these people, I don’t know their faces or their names and we say hi to each other,” Kane said. “I’m just more comfortable meeting with this group and I just feel really good after just being in the water.”
Wolf Pack meets every Wednesday and Friday at 8:00 a.m. at Devereux Beach, where anywhere from 20 to 50 people show up for a dip in cold water.
With over 1,000 followers, Wolf Pack is very active on Instagram and counts as a hub spot for those who are experiencing the adventure together.
The group breaks down into smaller, more intimate groups and goes on adventures of cold-water dipping in Salem, Marblehead, and surrounding towns. On Saturdays and Sundays, a small group goes on sunrise cold water dipping at Castle Rock. They bring coffee and tea to enjoy the breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean, the rocky coastline, and the mansions that surround it.
“I feel like this group has become this movement in a way, that it’s just organically evolved the way it needs to be,” said Anderson-McKernan. “I think that these larger groups of Deveraux are great, but sometimes they’re not as intimate as they were back when there were only like four or five of us on the beach in the middle of winter. So there are these smaller groups.”
Anderson-McKernan and her husband also incorporated the Blue Beanie Ceremony, a challenge for newcomers to understand the essence of cold-water dipping by emerging three times for two minutes to earn a blue beanie with the Wolf Pack logo.