Today was the Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge for Special Olympics. What a day!
This morning before dawn, my spouse and I awoke with one question … actually two questions … on our minds. First, how cold would the water feel? Second, what could we do to stay warm? We found ourselves pacing and killing time until the 9:30 am meeting time at the church, where we would carpool over to the local Community College for a bus to the freezing zone. Before we left, however, the weather update was not encouraging. Air temperatures were to be in the mid to upper 30s with a strong wind blowing. Water temperature in the Chesapeake Bay was 33 degrees.
When I get nervous, I get quiet and withdrawn. It was an effort to interact much with people this morning. I knew I could do this, but the two haunting questions remained.
When we arrived at Sandy Point State Park, the event site, it was a carnival atmosphere. Ravens colors were everywhere. (You would have thought that they won the playoffs and were going to the Super Bowl!) Huge heated tents held vendors and displays. The promised pig racing didn’t happen. Someone was seated on a dunk tank. (He was wearing cold water survival gear.) Those selling cold weather gear seemed to be doing pretty brisk business. Costume contest and other on stage events didn’t really capture my interest.
As the plunge time approached, we scouted the beach. Walking down to the water, we noticed the high tide line … a crust of ice about 4 inches thick and a foot wide marked that point. A hand in the water revealed that the answer to question one was “very cold”. We looked for the best place to park our photographers and cheering section, and planned our group plunge.
The dressing tents, one for men and one for women, stood at opposite sides of the beach. They were heated and very warm. Our group separated to the appropriate tents, then donned our plunging gear. The most common attire was swimsuits for the women (we were told it was best to wear as little as possible) and for the men, t-shirts and swim trunks. One of our men wore a grass skirt. I wore a black clergy shirt with collar. It was slow getting out of the warming tent into the water. In fact, some returned through a seam in the tent before we were even ready to go out. The men traversed the beach to our planned spot near the women’s warming tent, got a “before” photo, then headed to water’s edge.
Our men led the way into the water. It was cold, but strangely, it didn’t feel as cold as those early summer dips into the Atlantic at Ocean City. That might be because our skin became quite numb very quickly. We waded out to about belly depth, high fived the rescue swimmers stationed at the limit of the plunge zone, then with a quick 1, 2, 3 count, the men went completely under water. At the count, the women started their way out of the water. They heard rumor that some men were looking to tackle any woman in arms reach. The men came up sputtering and spitting and trying to catch a breath as we waded ashore. I doubt that there is anything so cold as a wet shirt in the wind on a 35 degree day and the wind blowing about 15 mph!
I quickly made my way back to a towel, stripped off the shirt, and donned my winter jacket. We had survived! All of us! A quick “after” photo shoot, and back we trudged to the men’s changing tent. My sandles were filling with sand … frozen in place. I couldn’t feel my feet.
We had seen the back way into the tent, and took that route. The warmth felt good. We changed into dry, warm clothing, but not without noticing that the men’s tent was really a coed changing tent. Not a few women were also using those facilities. One woman, changing about 5 feet behind me was overheard to say, “Don’t worry, I’ve seen a penis before.” There were some attempts at modesty, but after all, this was the men’s changing tent.
After getting dressed, we all made our way to the bus line as quickly as possible. That was the same plan everyone else had too. We waited in line for an hour for a bus to take us back to our cars. By the end of that wait, most of us were colder than we had been coming up out of the water. We were home by 3:30, and by 4 there was no hot water left in our showers.
It was a great day. Our team of 11 foolhardy plungers raised more than $7,200 for Special Olympics. We had a great bonding experience. We will show photos and video at our Youth Fundraising event this evening. I’ll post a few photos here once I get some of them emailed to me.