I get the irony: I complain about winters in Illinois yet I willingly ran into Lake Michigan in the middle of February. It’s called the Polar Plunge, an event to raise awareness and funds for Special Olympics, an adrenaline rush for a good cause, and not to mention permanent bad ass Illinois status.
I’ve wanted to become active in Special Olympics as a volunteer or coach ever since I heard my mom’s stories about coaching, but it never worked out. I coached for the first time this year and we went to State (the two are not related). Now that I’ve experienced it, I’m all in. And by that I mean lighting up at the idea of running into Lake Michigan in winter.
I joined a friend’s team, raised my money, and carpooled to Evanston for the plunge. We are in Illinois where “cold” takes on new definitions so I was mentally preparing for the cold. I heard stories how ice had to be broken and scooped out by machines, not being able to feel feet until the ride home, but looked forward to the next year.
I was fortunate enough to have one of the nicest first Polar Plunges ever. I stood sweating in my sweats on a sandy beach in 60 degree weather. So many people were there. So much excitement. So many layers of clothes and costumes I felt like the weirdo in my orange one piece swimsuit.
Our team was called and we charged into Lake Michigan. There was a shock, an “Oh that’s cold,” but considering it’s 1) February and 2)we had snow and ice on the ground not too long ago, it was nothing. I’ve been in showers colder.
Some people wade in. Some people jog in and break the sound barrier running out. We went in and under the water. Bo Derek and Halle Berry had nothing on me hustling up the beach to my towel.
We tried to recruit more for the team. I was met with bug eyes, contorted faces and the question, “Why?” Because a little bit of discomfort is worth providing a life-changing experience for an athlete and their families who meet relentless challenges with love and grace their entire lives. I was forever inspired and humbled by the athletes. It is a privilege to be able to sprint, or walk, your so-white-it-is-reflecting-blue-because-it-hasn’t-seen-sun-since-last-July body down an uneven surface and the only thing you have to worry about is it being cold. For a minute.
That’s why the Polar Plunge will become a tradition and best way to beat the winter blues.