MinneSNOWta: Taking the plungeThe best part of this story is the fact that I survived to tell it. The second best part is how the situation came about in the first place.
By: Regan Carstensen, The Republican Eagle
The best part of this story is the fact that I survived to tell it. The second best part is how the situation came about in the first place.
Every activity I had done in the “MinneSNOWta” series had been premeditated until my most recent encounter with the cold.
Never in my life had I considered taking part in a Polar Bear Plunge, but one Friday morning I was talking to Red Wing Police Chief Tim Sletten and he told me all about the annual event. He suggested I try it and I immediately laughed it off like he was crazy.
Tim told me he'd participated for the past several years — a comment to which I must have given him some kind of look like he's too old for that or something because he promptly said, “What? You think I can't do that?”
It's not that I questioned whether or not he could; it's that I questioned why on earth he would. (OK, a tiny part of me also wondered how he could. I’m sorry, Tim.)
Law enforcement presents the Polar Plunge as a fundraiser to benefit Special Olympics Minnesota, so for that reason I can see why someone would participate. But I can’t help but wonder why people haven't considered alternative fundraising methods.
Anyway, Tim said he wasn’t planning to jump this year, yet he had no problem encouraging me to take part. I wasn’t considering it whatsoever until he suddenly sweetened the pot: Looking at me with a sly, devious smile, he said that if I would do it, he would do it.
That was all it took.
The chance to see an authority figure in a vulnerable state — such as the way someone is when they’re submersed in utterly frigid lake water — was all the motivation I needed. It didn’t matter that I was going to become a Popsicle as well.
Nothing had ever been so priceless as the look on Tim’s face when he realized that I was being serious. He’s the one that said it — if I’d jump, he’d jump — and now there was no backing down. Someone clearly didn’t expect me to call his bluff.
With a simple handshake we each secured our fate for Feb. 11. And boy did I regret it almost immediately. What a wonderful idea to agree to such a nerve-wracking activity two weeks in advance.
For the first week or so I was doing just fine. I tried not to think about it and just went on with my life.
Week No. 2 produced much different results. Half of my nights were restless while the other half were consumed with dreams of getting pushed in the lake and somehow not ever coming back to the surface. With my stomach in knots and my anxiety over the temperature of the water making it fairly difficult to breathe like a normal person, I’m surprised I didn’t need a medic the morning of the plunge.
I would have settled for a couple comforting friends to make the jump easier, but instead I got Tim telling me made-up horror stories about my very high likelihood of needing the ambulance that was parked nearby. Throughout the entire drive to Rochester I was blessed with hearing the “dangers” of the plunge.
“Why else do you think it’s held in the same town as Mayo Clinic?” he asked me.
With every snide remark he made, I threatened to put one extra picture of him in the paper. And since he was dressed as a punk rocker with orange hair and a spikey choker I figured it was a powerful weapon at my disposal.
Still, the jokes kept coming. Thankfully there were much more reassuring people in the group of 12 of us that jumped. Our team name was the Copsycles and we were comprised of just that — cops from Red Wing, Zumbrota, Goodhue County, Prairie Island and Kenyon, if I remember right.
The Fraternal Order of Police River View Lodge 7 supported the team, providing more than $1,000 for all of us to take part in the plunge. Its donation was one of many that totaled upwards of $200,000 raised for Special Olympics at the Rochester location alone. Plunges are still being held throughout the state through the middle of March.
As I tried my best to focus on the fact that this would all benefit a worthy organization, I still had trouble shaking the thought of sudden cardiac arrest from my mind. Having never experienced submersion in water quite so cold, I had no idea how my body would react.
I was given a couple of hours to mull over the possible consequences of what was to come as our group slowly moved from a registration tent to a changing tent to a waiting tent — all while being mercilessly teased by Tim a majority of the way.
Finally we reached the platform in front of the open water. I’ll be honest, part of me considered hanging back and letting everyone else jump in front of me, but they weren’t about to let that happen.
Tim graciously found a spot for me right near the front and before I had time to gather any final thoughts about my ultimate demise, I was underwater with the rest of the Copsycles.
Everything I imagined was confirmed: I could see the light. Not the one at the end of the tunnel that gives people hope. More like the one that told me to say goodbye to my short life as it whisked me off elsewhere.
Thankfully — and surprisingly — it wasn’t even five seconds later and the light was looking more similar to the sun shining down on gleaming water. Did I really just survive that?
Suddenly all of my fears vanished. The build-up to the plunge was about 1 million times worse than the plunge itself. And after getting out, warming up and drying off, I can honestly say I considered taking part in future events.
But something tells me I was lightheaded or simply caught up in the excitement of the day. Once February rolls around again I don’t expect to feel so willing.
Although it is for a good cause so, Tim, here’s my promise (in writing, no less): If you jump, I jump.