Polar Plunge – Cape Girardeau, MO
45. In geometry 45 degrees means a perfect diagonal, the exact line bisecting up from across. In geography the 45th parallel in exactly between the Equator and the North Pole, the threshold where north is just too darn cold. In the Wild West the Colt .45 became known as “the gun that won the west”, because of it’s durability, reliability, and popularity. In temperature, 45 degrees outside is cool enough for a coat, especially if the sun isn’t out. Forty-five degrees is the average temperature in Dutch Harbor (for all of you Deadliest Catch fans), and should also require a thick head-to-toe wetsuit, according to this fancy chart.
45 degrees also happened to be the temperature of Lake Boutin for our Polar Plunge.
And if you think that a cold shower is cold enough for you, just know that the average water temperature of tap water is around 54 degrees. The 9 degree difference in water temperature turns a “cold shower” into a “frozen jump”. On Saturday, with 300 of our closest friends (friends that fall into the category of “met within the previous two hours”), we sauntered into to the frigid waters of Lake Boutin at Trail of Tears State Park near Cape Girardeau, Missouri. And instead of that head-to-toe wetsuit we were talking about, we were dressed as Princess Leia and a purple fairy – costumes chosen by two of our Kickstarter backers – to participate in the 6th Annual Polar Plunge for Special Olympics of Southeastern Missouri.
We know that this doesn’t exactly fit the bill as a sporting event. In fact, the only competition on site was for the best costume. So why include it on a trip that’s supposed to be all about sporting and competitive events?
The glamour of plunging struck us when we saw it on television several years ago. Insane human beings gallivanting into brumal waters dressed in silly costumes? We’re game. As we learned more, we realized that in order to do a plunge you need to have physical stamina. According to Dr. Alan Steinman, former Coast Guard director of health and safety, when you plunge into cold water, the small blood vessels on the surface of your body shrink to help your body retain heat. With less room for your blood to move, your blood pressure rises. Then, if you stay in the cold water for a longer period of time, blood rushes away from the limbs to your core, which can lead to weakness in your extremities. (The Body Odd)
I contemplated these facts from the shoreline as I starred at the dry-suit-clad EMTs in the water, just before our plunge. The sun had peaked out from behind the clouds, but it was still in the 40s outside, and from watching the 13 heats before us, I knew that the water was going to be colder than any water I’d ever experienced before. It was going to suck jumping into 45 degree water and I considered running out of line and into the warm tent. I nervously I turned to the person next to me, a teenager, and ask him if he was jumping in, too. He giggled at me and said “No way! I’m just cheering. Besides, these are my best pants!” I soon realized I was speaking with one of the 15,000 athletes the Southeastern Missouri location serves.
I mentally chastised myself for ever thinking about wussing out of this event. I was going to be in the water for fifteen seconds and it was going to be cold and terrible, but my mere moments of discomfort cannot be compared to the struggles and hardships many Special Olympics athletes and their families face every single day. And that’s the real reason we decided to participate in this event: our belief that ALL people should have the chance to play sports regardless of their ability. We wanted the opportunity to participate in something that isn’t only fun, but also goes toward a cause in which we passionately believe.
Special Olympics provides year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy, and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes, and the community. (Special Olympics Mission). If you’d like to get involved with your local Special Olympics branch or participate in a Polar Plunge next year, visit: www.specialolympics.org/