Today was the Polar Plunge, my very first, and boy was it something.
I showed up to the park grounds about an hour before the plunge and it was, at once, exactly what I expected, and completely surprising.
It was much more of a full on event than I expected. And much more of a family event for that matter, which made me glad mine decided they wanted to be there with me.
There were people tailgating, all sorts of costumes, both individuals and teams.
What struck me most was the amount of volunteerism required to put on an event like this. The registration tent alone must have had two dozen people taking names and last minute donations, and handing out bracelets to participants, as well as hoodies to those who raised $100 or more.
The next, much larger tent was filled with plungers and their families, and lined with volunteers selling memorabilia, and handing out free snacks and warm drinks. My kids even got some free face paint for their efforts.
After the singing of the National Anthem, it was time to line up.
Since there are so many people taking part in the plunge, it’s necessary to only let small groups go at a time. We were at the back, one of the last groups to go.
My friends and I were doing this for the first time, so as we lined up to wait our turn, I think we were all filled with the same nervous anticipation.
Luckily it was sunny and in the mid 40s, but that’s plenty cold when your in just a bathing suit and shoes. Oh, and the bad news – the water was about the same temperature.
When it was our turn, I walked up to the shore with half a plan. I thought that, since I’ve spent plenty of time in cold showers and baths, I knew what I was getting into. I’d get out there confidently, submerge myself quickly, then get the hell out.
Mike Tyson once said “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Touche, Mike.
As soon as I stepped in the somehow still liquid water, I sank past my ankles in the sand, and everything went out the window.
I heard a friend yell “let’s party!” and it was go time. We started to sprint, as much as that was possible, directly away from shore. After about 5 steps, I could no longer feel if my shoes were even still on my feet.
At our furthest point from shore, the water was barely above my knee, and my panicking brain couldn’t figure out a way that I could get the rest of my body under the water, especially because it thought I was dying.
The bravest among us let himself fall backwards into the water, and I’m jealous and ashamed I didn’t do the same. I splashed some water on my chest and face, and turned to head back.
The trip back to shore was the longest 20 or so yards I have ever walked in my life. I was simultaneously in pain and completely numb, more unsure than ever if my shoes were still on my feet.
Of course I made it out, we all did. And as we walked up the beach to our dry clothes, the blood started to return to my feet (which, it turns out, still had shoes on them), and the pain went away.
I felt exhilarated. Before I had even started to dry off and thaw out, I was already thinking about the next one. I can’t wait.
Last time I checked, this event had raised over $45k for the Special Olympics, which is as good a cause as any I can think of, and I was happy to be uncomfortable for a very short amount of time in order to contribute.