Thursday, January 8, 2009

Past Deadline: A Refreshing Dip in the Tay in January

More on the Polar Bear Plunge, published in The Perth Courier on Wednesday, Jan. 7/09. I hope to have a bit more time for some original posts here now that the holidays have raced away!

A refreshing dip in the Tay in January

My New Year’s resolution for 2009 was to survive the Perth Polar Bear Plunge on Jan. 1.

Done. Phew! Now what?

Anticipation was the worst part of plunging. I spent more time waffling between being a chicken and a polar bear than my daughter changes outfits in a day – and that’s a LOT. In what I thought was a final decision, I decreed that if I raised $500 I would jump. That happened alarmingly quickly.

My convictions still wobbly, I decided to cheat (with the blessing of my pledgers) and arranged for a wetsuit. Apparently, though, there is a rather significant “no wetsuits no matter what” rule for the plunge. Fine. It felt too wimpy anyway.

So, as my tally of pledges continued to climb and I felt even more duty bound, I got my affairs in order and put the matter to rest. I was jumping. It’s only cold, dark water, right?


With my mind finally made up I at least stopped waking with a start every morning. In fact, I managed to put the whole thing out of my head until a few days before the event, at which point I settled into a nice, easy, queasy feeling every time I thought about it (250 times a day).

I volunteer with an outstanding group of people with the Friends of Murphys Point. They work hard as a team to put together great events – which is a big reason why the Archaeo Apprentice program (which is the recipient of funds raised from the plunge) is so wonderful.

They know me well. When it was time to assign duties to volunteers on the day of the plunge they said, “Oh, Steph, you’re plunging. You just make the rounds and talk to people.” This, I suspect, was code for: “She will be a nervous wreck. Don’t let her anywhere near the kitchen or a cashbox.”

Clever folks! I love them to bits!

So I wandered around and kept distracted and no one’s life depended on any task left in my care – other than my own, I suppose. My mother says as plunge time drew nearer I got paler. After I changed into my wetsuit-free plunge garb, I was the colour of snow. Since we had no snow that day, I didn’t get lost in the background.

What we did have was an air temperature of -19C and a water temperature of “are-you-freaking-crazy?” Celsius. The set-up crew had to chip off two inches of ice that formed overnight. This year, I’m told, the hole extended further from shore than usual. Coupled with higher water than usual, we would be jumping into eight feet of water.

So much for splashing in waist high.

I had never even been to the plunge before. Normally I like to watch someone else go first before trying something new. In this instance, however, Mayor John Fenik and I were not only pleased to be in the first group of jumpers, we requested it. This was his fourth jump, and I trusted his experience. He also promised to help fish my cold, limp body out of the river if need be.

Fortunately it didn’t come to that. Now I’m a true polar bear – I went right under – then swam with quickly stiffening limbs through what felt like very cold, thick Jello to shore, where two kind people helped everyone out.

No doubt about it – it was breathtakingly cold! And apparently I can move pretty darned fast when it’s minus 19 and I’m soaked to the skin.

You know, though, it wasn’t so bad. Like I said, the anticipation was the hardest part, particularly as the crowd counted down from five and I stared into that cold dark water and wondered if I could will myself to jump in.

Would I do it again? I’ll have to get back to you on that!

Thank you to everyone who plunged, pledged, volunteered and otherwise supported the Friends of Murphys Point for the plunge. It was a fantastic day that will go a long way to support a great archeology program!

Now I think I’ll work on some New Year’s resolutions that involve warm things.

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