Knowing that I have a weakness for all sorts of silliness, Bill Tipple asked me to cover the Polar Plunge, an annual ritual where a discombobulation of lunatics choose a date in March to splash around in Indian Lake.
Right up my alley.
I'm ashamed to say that I had not heard of the Polar Plunge until Bill mentioned it, and was surprised to learn that this is the fourth installment of the Plunge at Oldfield Beach. The phrase 'Polar Plunge' is a copyright owned by the Special Olympics, and spokesperson Paige Ludwig said Saturday that the Special Olympics have had people diving through the ice in Ohio for the past 17 years, all in efforts to raise funds for their noble organization.
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Watch participants take the plunge!
Five years ago, the Ohio State Moose Association decided to start sponsoring three of the nine annual Polar Plunges scheduled each year in the Buckeye State. It turned out that the Indian Lake Moose Lodge #1533 just happened to have a substantial body of water sitting about three-feet outside its front door and a tradition was born. The arrangement seems to be working out very well as the only shrinkage experienced since has been literal, with the annual event at Oldfield Beach ballooning after each passing year. A handful of Plungers has grown to about one hundred and herds of Moose from Lima, Urbana, and Buckeye Lake were all on hand Saturday to risk a frozen pancreas for a good cause.
I received yet another surprise when I found out that this year's Plunge at Oldfield was expected to raise over $24,000 for the Special Olympics. Twenty-four grand is not Moose change in anybody's book, and Ms. Ludwig said that 20 percent of the total raised is earmarked to the communities that host the events. This year the Plunges realized over $400,000 statewide (Saturday was the final Plunge for this season).
Moose (capital M) and the Polar Plunge are a natural fit, Moose being well suited to stand the cold, given their general good nature, collective sense of humor, and high levels of anti-freeze in their bloodstreams.
It was decided years ago that bikinis and Speedos were a little blasé for such a momentous event, so a costume contest was initiated to add to the festive atmosphere. That is why those chicken-livered spectators like myself were treated Saturday to the following sights: Toga-and-laurel clad Moose from Lima Lodge 199 (little known fact: Julius Caesar has Ohio State and Brownie ink); huge Bellefontaine Braves fan Robin Hollinger swathed head-to-knee in bubble-wrap by her co-workers at AcuSport; Brenda and Brian from Indian Lake Outfitters going all Duck Dynasty, complete with mop heads for beards; a cigar-smoking, six-foot tall weenie sandwich, and other assorted oddities. All were topped by Benjamin Logan freshman Alexis Davis, however, as she took home the blue ribbon with her costume that doubled as a kitchen table complete with service for four.
Of course the Indian Lake Rescue Dive Team was on site and four of them donned their float suits and positioned themselves about a three-quarter lob wedge off shore. One of the divers said that he was wearing a Flotation Thong just in case, of what I didn't ask. The idea was that the Plungers were to wade or swim out to the divers and back to shore. A good deal made it all the way out and back, but all were greeted with cheers and applause on their return from the briny deep (I know, I know, Indian Lake is not briny, but 'freshwater deep' has no ring to it) whether they made the round trip or not.
Back in Journalism 101 (which I flunked. Twice.) we learned that the best time to interview athletes, witnesses, and lunatics is immediately, so I asked a dozen or so Plungers about their experience as they were standing on Oldfield Beach, scantily clad, dripping wet, in a 15MPH wind and 35 degree weather. Responses I received included "Cold." "Really cold.", "Really, really cold.", and in the case of Gina from Lima "(expletive deleted) cold!"
Excepting a few cases of massive but transient chill bumps, everybody made it through Plunge and most repaired to the Moose Lodge, where warm food, a hot band, and age appropriate beverages were readily available.
I am considering sponsoring my own team next year - I said sponsor, not Plunger - and am willing to kick up the entry for Matt Smith as my anchorman, in the hopes that we are able to create the first flash-frozen radio jock. And I already have a name for my team: