Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Do A Polar Plunge

For over one hundred years, Americans have been participating in Polar (or Arctic) Plunges to raise money for charities or organizations or because they are just nuts. As soon as I added this onto my list, I started to look for some in my area; I found two. The first was for the Special Olympics in the early spring. The second was for the Hawkeye Wrestling Club (HWC) in the middle of January. You could make a case for both that they were crazy or stupid. As I try with all of my bucket list activities, I want to take the most extreme road as possible. So the HWC was getting my money. Like me, they take everything to the extreme.
While some people may say that the Special Olympics are a better cause, I have lived in Iowa my entire life. I wanted to have my second child’s middle name to be Hawkeye. Leigha agreed to go along with it as long as it was a boy. I’m not saying that I wish that I didn’t have a daughter, but I still wish that her middle name was Hawkeye. Apparently, it isn’t feminine enough.
For my entire life, the University of Iowa has had the premier wrestling program in the country. Since 1979, when I was born, they have won twenty National Championships. To put that in perspective, during that same time there were several professional sports that had dynasties. The Lakers won ten NBA championships, the 49ers won five NFL, the Yankees won five MLB and the Red Wings won four NHL. It is not an exaggeration to say that Iowans consider any season that does not end in a National Championship as a down one. The HWC supports wrestlers once they graduate as they train for the Olympics or other such events. To actually participate, a $100 donation was required. So I created a Google Checkout account and asked for donations on here. At work, I had set up a canister asking for $1 donations, which many people gave. Because of the generous donation by Move360 Fitness, I was able to freeze in front of a cheering crowd. My friend from work, Betsy decided that she wanted to take the plunge with me, and I glad that she did. I’ve realized that when participating in activities such as these, it is always nice to have a partner.
Several days before the event, I e-mailed the organizer of the event, a former wrestler, and asked him for some information.

 Hello there, my friend Betsy xxxx and I are both planning on participating in the polar plunge on Saturday, but we don’t really know the details. According to your website, the event is at 11 a.m. at the Riverside Casino. Where should we meet? And should we come before 11? Are we jumping into the pond? Will there be a place available inside the casino for us to change our clothes?  Should we bring our own paparazzi? Betsy wants to know what to wear. I realize that you are a guy as well and might not be able to answer this, but I told her that I would ask. Thank you for you help.
                -Adam J. Williams

He maintained a level of professionalism, but I can only assume that he thought that I was crazy.
January 28th 2012 was the day of the big event. The jumping was planned to start at noon, with us registering up to an hour ahead of that. Unfortunately, the kids had swimming lessons that conflicted with the plunge. So while they jumped into water assisted by lifeguards, I jumped into freezing water with men specially equipped with scuba gear.
Betsy and I parked in the middle of a field, next to snow-covered bails of hay. It was 24 degrees outside. There was a huge white circus-like tent set up near the Iowa River, which flowed through the field. I looked at the river. It looked a glass of water that had been sitting in a freezer for a few hours. The edges were iced over and covered with snow while the middle was placid and cold. Next to a tree stump, I leaned my bag that contained my change of clothes. I started to walk towards a bonfire that a group of people were standing around, when one our co-workers, Michele came up to me and Betsy and told us that she had come to cheer us on. Then Bev came up to tell us that she had come, too.Bev is like the ER mom. Her daughter and sister both work there with me and Bev always stopping by to drop off treats. It made me think of my e-mail. I guess that I was bringing my own paparazzi, after all.
As the crowd of people got bigger, Betsy and I decide that we should go register. In the tent, there was a check-in station. We were told that we would be jumping in groups and we were in the fifth and sixth section. As far as I could tell, we were two of the three people that didn’t have any connection to the athletic department. We had half an hour before people were going to start jumping into the water and Betsy decided to strip down to her swimsuit. She wanted to get acclimated to the weather. As I was only wearing swim trunks into the water, I had no plans of disrobing any earlier than I needed. I had done some research on hypothermia and was less worried about that than exposure.
When it was nearly time for me to jump, I stripped down to my swim trunks. My entire life, I’ve been overweight and ultra-aware of that fact whenever I am shirtless. As I looked around, I thought about the biological effects of jumping into freezing water. When jumping into cold water, people inhale or gasp. This is what causes many people to drown in freezing water, regardless of how deep the water is. I kept thinking to myself that I needed to remember to breathe. I looked around at the other people that were getting ready to jump themselves. I realized that most of the guys were either former NCAA champions, All-Americans or Olympians. But nobody was taller than my shoulders. I felt like a giant amongst elite athletes. It was an odd feeling.
When it was my turn, I wasn’t nervous. By that point, I was just cold and wanted to get it over with. In the water, they had set up a pole that was the farthest point that we were allowed to go. I stared at the pole until they called my name, at which point I ran and dove into the water. It felt like thousands of tiny needles stabbed me over my entire body. If you’d like to experience the feeling in a much milder way, soak your hand in hot water for a few minutes and then put in a bowl of ice water. I didn’t remember to breath, but I didn’t choke. At this point, my body was on automatic. The only thing that I needed to do was get to that pole. My shoes (a good idea when going into dirty water) sank into the mud and made it difficult to move. As soon as I made it to the pole, I turned around and looked at the cheering crowd. Then I decided that I might as well dive in the water again.
As soon as I got out , I kept moving through the crowd. I needed my towel. I needed my hat. I needed something to cover me. The time from entering the water to exiting may not have even been a minute, but it was a really long minute. It wasn’t because I was cold or the fact that the water actually hurt to be in. It was like I stepped outside of myself and watched as I waded through the water. I figured that this was a combination of the surge of adrenaline and the body going into autopilot survival mode. This was the reason that people do crazy and life-threatening things.
After we changed, Bev joined Betsy and me inside the giant tent to have some hot food and drinks. We sat amongst the wrestlers and their family. Betsy commented on how, despite not actually knowing anybody, they were incredibly nice to us. It felt like, if only for a day, we were part of the team.

By participating with this, I managed to make it to the cover of the Daily Iowan. I am the guy on the bottom picture that looks like he is about a foot taller than anybody else.

1855 Lower Muscatine Rd

Iowa City, Iowa 52240


  1. Very good report. You are missing an "am" and an "of", however you can get those on rewrite.

    1. How, honestly, can you expect one who is still probably shivering with slushy marrow, to get all those perfect grammars. ;)

  2. I really smiled throughout the entire video. I especially like the sideways ending...it seemed to capture nicely, the wackiness of your endeavor. (total mistake btw) but still, nice addition! Nice write up. You guys were part of the team!!! Go team! -Michele

  3. That sounds like an awesome experience Adam! The closest I've ever been to a polar plunge is at Centre Parks where they have a mini version. It's about 5' deep and you pencil dive into it and jump straight back out again. Well done though mate

  4. Thanks, Paul. I've realized that life would be much easier if you always had a crowd cheering you on. Now I understand why people have entourages. And it was pretty cool making it on the cover of the newspaper.

  5. You never cease to amaze me with your activity selection. You were fearless as a child and curious about everything, so it shouldn't come as a surprise. What a great way to encourage your children to never be afraid of trying new things. I will admit, it's easier for me to encourage your curiosity when you pay the medical bills. I love you my dear son!

  6. Haha nice! I definately will not put this on my bucket list but it's fun seeing you go for it! :)

    Your fellow bucket lister,
    Mike Hoang

  7. Congrats! I did one of these myself this year through the Special Olympics. We only had to jump into a tiny pool and then we got to change immediately in a heated tent, so yours looks a little more gutsy!


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