When I had first heard about the Polar Plunge at Harbor Beach at North Hempstead Beach Park in Port Washington, I figured that those participating must be out of their minds. I could not imagine diving head first into icy cold water in the middle of winter, let alone in only my bathing suit! However, as soon as I heard the Plunge benefited the Special Olympics, my spirits were raised. To freeze for a few hours in order to support a good cause was entirely worth my while.
To be quite frank, I don't think I've ever hoped for a sunny day as much as I did the night before the Plunge. The weather reports were brutal — 30 to 40 mile per hour winds, torrential rain and a chance of hail. And it wasn't clearing up. I awoke to puddles outside my door the size of the Long Island Sound, and it was an increasingly bad hair day.
As I put my bathing suit on for the first time in months, I thought about how ironic is was that snow littered the lawns outside during this momentous event. I began to seriously doubt my ability to adapt to the cold water.
Upon my 9 a.m. arrival, the rain was coming down even harder than the previous hours of the morning. I made my way through registration, retrieved a bracelet, established a noon plunging time, and began the waiting game.
Hundreds of people began to flood the main tent as I lingered — fingers frozen and toes numb. The distinct smell of hot chocolate stung my nostrils as I observed men dressed as Superman and Captain America, and the women with children taking photos with their kids with volunteers dressed as Star Wars Storm Troopers. But the most distinct image I hold in my mind is the determination and persistence each supporter held in their hearts. I snapped photos with my disposable camera, eager to keep these memories close.
The jingling of bells, which were used to inform the masses that someone had made an outstanding donation, rang consistently. Children had polar bears and wolves painted gracefully on their faces by an artist who sported a "Freezin' For a Reason" T-shirt. Women hugged their husbands like they were going into war as the wives worried they would catch a cold without proper warmth. It was these beautiful people that I shared my icy experience with.
Once outside, the rain pinged off my face. With camera in hand, I thought about all the plungers' reasons for taking the dive and their amazing stories about what made them support such a cause. Not only did I learn about the devotion these philanthropists carried, but also about the pilgrimage the Special Olympics representatives have been on. They fight for their cause, as do the people who support them, and have succeeded in such endeavors. I met a lot of people with a passion for change, and an incentive for achieving such goals. We began to establish a truly, mutual personal understanding at this amazing event.
But then it was time to mentally prepare for the Polar Plunge. Noon finally cornered me, and I began to get nervous. I worried about the probability of hypothermia and the numbness I was already feeling in my legs. Within seconds, the doubt floated out of my mind like a thought bubble, and I thought, I would do anything to help these children, even if it meant swimming in the 38-degree ocean. So I changed my clothes, took off my warm boots, and ventured down to the beach — happy.
We all gathered, waiting to head down to the beach. This group of freezing, dedicated, excited, nervous, old, young, eccentric, determined individuals lined up side by side. Wacky costumes and colors and team T-shirts scattered across the crowd, motivating me to continue on as the cold, wet weather outside left my body quivering. I endured the pain, confident about the great amount I was about to contribute. The spokesperson announced that we were to walk, not run, to the beach, and prepare to plunge. As a whole, the group shuffled, feet completely desensitized, to the water. The coordinator cut the "caution" tape, which served as a starting line, and off we went.
My legs grew wings. I, along with close to 500 others, dove into the seemingly treacherous waters. Although it became hard to breathe (and feel), I survived, gasping, but laughing! It became the most influential thing I have ever engaged in. The masses surrounding me had served as my inspiration as I adapted to a feeling of a sudden calm.
I emerged from the water, face-to-face with a chilling breeze, and threw on my robe. I had done it! I was so excited, I felt as though I could not stop smiling. Everyone around me applauded and screamed and felt the same accomplishments I did. It was amazing.
As I hobbled off the beach, my legs numb and becoming increasingly stiff, I felt a sense of warmth I had not felt in my entire lifetime. And suddenly, the sensation spread throughout my entire body, and my once-freezing limbs began to defrost. The participants I now shared a common bond with had lit a fire in my heart, which even presently, as I write this, is still ignited.