Polar Bear Plunge

Taking the Plunge

What lead me to jump into the freezing Chesapeake Bay

The Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge has been taking place in the Chesapeake Bay for the past 13 years. It benefits the Special Olympics of Maryland and I have almost always watched it on TV and said to myself, “Wow, those people are either brave, crazy or stupid.” As I watched thousands of people dash into the icy cold waters…and run nearly naked back up on the beach to get dressed.

(Read More to see the rest, including the picture!)

Then the email came. Someone at NAIB wanted to start a plunge team with us. We all thought about it long and hard and decided that we could probably come up with our own team and in an effort to raise more money for the Special Olympics have an unspoken competition. We could definitely out-raise NAIB. So we put the feelers out and low and behold 27 people were brave enough and anxious enough to join our team.

I told my Captain, Shannon Petrosky, “This is nuts. I am going to do this but I am only going to get my feet wet and then I am out.” My plan, put the $50 bucks minimum donation into the pot and dash in with my wet suit, get my feet wet turn around and come out of the water. Shannon has a way of charming everyone, including myself so she smiled her special smile at me, and then said, “Sure Kim, you can do that. Just plunge.” I was in.

Then I started thinking about all the Special Olympians in my life, there is Jeanique, from PG county who came to the zoo and smiled a timid smile and grabbed my hand and told me immediately, “I’m scared. I don’t like animals.” After showing her a few animals she grabbed my hand, smiled brilliantly at me and said that she loved me and she loved the zoo. She then said, “I’ll always remember you.” And I told her, “I’ll never forget you either Jeanique.” I do remember you Jeanique, and I can’t wait for you to visit the zoo again.

Then there are the students from the Maryland School For the Blind who I fretted about giving a guided tour too. I worried about offending and not giving a good enough experience to. And then I received an amazing gift of letters and one of which told me how much they loved the smell of the Chimpanzee Forest, and how the sound of the waterfall was so wonderful. Wow…what a gift it is to see the zoo from a different viewpoint.

Then there is the Kennedy-Krieger crew. Oh how I love them. They are the best part of my springtime. I look so forward to their visit to the zoo so we can play, and explore and just enjoy the zoo on so many levels.

There is Sidoney, who is just full of love and light. I love watching her grow up. She’s going to do great things.

And last but by far not least, there is the ARC gang who come every day to the zoo to help us keep up the appearance. They are such hard workers and always full of smiles and such a great work ethic. The zoo would be at a loss without them.

Then my selfish thoughts drifted away. I hate asking for money. But, I couldn’t let these kids down. So I started going to the folks that would most enjoy seeing me get thrown in the cold water. The Washington DC Region Sports Car Club of America. And low and behold, the donations flowed in. I can’t thank the following people enough for their donations: Lin Toland (Toland Racing), Eric Kriemelmeyer, Art Jaso, Suzanne Krause Esq., Greg Obadia (who wanted me to drown), Marshall Cone, Mike and Chris Koutek, Stan Damren, Lauren Robison, Holly Richman, Chuck Edmondson, and the persons who put me over the top, Sarah and Hugh Evans. The big selling point of this donation event was I promised that I would go waist deep into the water if I raised $500.00 and everyone was so generous that I went above and beyond $500.00 so waist deep I would go.

Then the word came. NO WETSUITS ALLOWED. What on earth are they thinking? I began to get a little worried about my commitment. Once again team Captain Shannon stepped up. “You can do this, I’m going all the way under.” I began to question the sanity of my Captain. But I live by my word. I promised to go waist deep and I was determined to live up to it.

Two weeks to the plunge. The heat was on. Shannon announced that she was going to Florida (yes you can frown when saying that) and she made me co-captain to make sure we got a bus and had everyone in. I also was in charge of spurring our group to earn more. So the competition was on. I had to make daily announcements regarding where we were in the standings. We were 11th in our division. Not too shabby for our first year. Then there was the real competition, NAIB. They had 19 members of their team and had not met their goal yet. This kept our team buoyant. As long as we were ahead we were happy.

One week to plunge. I was seriously getting cold feet. I kept thinking of all those kids that I have worked with over the years and that I was doing this for the right reasons. Then the excitement started happening….each day our competition in our division gained more members. Causing them to be pushed up to the next division. We quickly went from 11th in our division to 2nd….Darn Ice Flow Rodeo they whooped us by over $1000.00.

The day arrived, it was 25 degrees Fahrenheit and WINDY. Holy HELL. I was completely in WHAT HAVE I GOTTEN MYSELF INTO mode. I was practically rocking back and forth. I gathered my gear and Travis pushed me out the door. In the car I was quiet. I was worried about making sure the bus arrived (THANK YOU BILL ROHRBAUGH’S BUS SERVICE) and even more worried about getting in the ice cold water.

I got to the zoo. Acceptance of what I was about to do was kicking in, but it was still being chased hard by my apprehension. The bus arrived. I loaded my gear. Swallowed hard and greeted our plungers. The Maryland Zoo Polar Bears came ready to plunge. Our team was seriously pumped. War paint was being applied. Giant Paco was leading cheers. Donuts were being eaten. I was beginning to get caught up in the moment. I was going to do this thing.

We arrived at Sandy Point State Park at about 11:00am. Two hours before plunge time. The bus lot was riddled with tailgating parties. There were a lot of fire personnel from DC. All having a really good time. I kept chanting in my head, “I’m doing this. I’m going to do this.” But my deep inner thoughts were definitely saying, “um…are you nuts?”

This was a huge party. There were thousands of people. Lots of food. Lots of fun. Lots of uniqueness. Travis was so supportive smiling at me and asking, “So what stage are you in now?” By this time I was fully committed but not really excited about it. I was looking for my friends but, just ended up at the costume contest. OMG. The uniqueness of this experience was obvious at the costume contest. I think the announcer said, “Gentlemen, this is a family friendly contest, no less than 20 times.” There were a lot of speedos and a lot of flesh.

I eventually found our group and we began to create our game plan. We were going in. Some of our group were a little more excited about plunging than others. I could see the trepidation in some of the faces. We gathered for our group picture. YAY ZOO! Then we heard the call. The beach was clear. The herd anxious. OMG. I’m going to go in. Half of my group went into the heated tents. Half of the group just changed on the beach. Everyone was going in. Did I mention that earlier in the day, the dive team and the support team were chipping ice out of the water? Oh yeah, the bay was slightly frozen. And I was going to go in.

The plunge began and the herd jossled and tussled and pushed and prodded. We were moving….TOWARDS the Water. Something seemed very wrong with this. VERY VERY WRONG. But I was doing this for all the Special Olympians I admire. I was doing this for a good cause. I was caught in the stream of humans and it was emptying in the bay. I don’t know what time span had passed but it felt like forever, and the next thing I knew, I was striding, CONFIDENTLY into the water. I did make it out to just a smidge shy of my waist but I did it. My teammates and friends, went out and dunked their heads. Yes, I collect a trail mix of nuts for friends, but I love them.

As we left the water, my legs were so cold I couldn’t feel them. My core temp was definitely low. But I felt great! And as we changed to complete nakedness, we all said, “We are totally doing this again next year.”

Thank you friends for supporting me in this craziness. To my Special Olympian friends, have a wonderful fun year! And I’ll be back again next year. I know the answer to my original question now, the people who do the plunge are a little bit crazy, a whole lot of brave and they have hearts as big as platters to help raise money for such a great cause.

Taking the Plunge

Taking the Plunge

2 thoughts on “Polar Bear Plunge

  1. Glad you enjoyed the plunge, and your write–up was wonderful!

    This was my second time doing the plunge, and was surprised at the large crowd. (The first time was about seven years ago, and the crowed was *much* smaller.)

    Sorry we missed you there. We had three small children with us, and got to Sandy Point as the early plunge was heading for the shore and favorite warming techniques.

    We did the late plunge, and had a great time, although wrangling two four–year–olds and a one-year old (with stroller) across the beach while one’s toes are frozen is not something to be recommended.

    (You can see us on a random flickr image getting ready at . No idea who took it…)

    Cheers!
    John

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