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Taking the Plunge

I may be crazy, but I know what I’m wearing

With several inches of snow on the ground and more steadily falling, I watched from the sidelines of the 2010 Polar Plunge. Who, I wondered, would be crazy enough to run into the Chesapeake Bay in the middle of winter?
    For the 2013 Plunge, I’ve answered that question. I am.
    On Saturday, January 26, I will join 12,000-plus plungers for a quick dip in the Bay at Sandy Point State Park to raise money for Special Olympics Maryland.
    Are we all crazy?
    If so, mass hysteria is a communicable disease. In 1997, only 300 brave souls took the first chilly run into the Bay. In 17 years, the plunge has spread to thousands. Additional events up the challenge. For the Super Plunge, now in its 10th year, 50 to 60 people plunge every hour on the hour for 24 hours. Each of these Super Plungers raises at least $10,000.
    Nowadays, there are plunges for all ages. Again this year, there’ll be a Pee-Wee plunge for kids under eight to dash into kiddie pools on the beach. High schools will take a Cool Schools Plunge on February 1.
    The method to all this madness is money. The Maryland Polar Plunge — borrowed from Delaware, which followed New Jersey, the first Plunge state — has raised more than $22 million.
    There’s also local pride to keep up. The Special Olympics has Maryland roots. Eunice Kennedy Shriver began Camp Shriver — which would grow into the Special Olympics — in her backyard in Bethesda. Since 1960, Special Olympics has grown into an international organization.

Crazy with a Plan
    I might be crazy, but I’m not clueless. I plan a prepared plunge.
    I’m starting cold showers the week before. Imbibing shots of something strong seems like a good idea, but artificial warmth that could make lingering in the Bay longer than necessary is probably a bad idea.
    December’s Santa Speedo run got me thinking about what to wear. The average water temperature of the Bay is around 37 degrees in January, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
    That’s wet-suit weather. These, however, are not allowed for the Polar Plunge. Most everything else, from very little on up, is allowed.
    “It’s almost like Halloween,” says Linda Ellingsworth, director of Communications for Special Olympics Maryland.
    I’ve seen plungers dressed as Ravens ladies in a sea of purple beehives and feathers, a family of Smurfs whose bodies were blue before they hit the water, and a series of Where’s Waldos.
    I cannot forget, no matter how hard I try, the man in the Hooters costume.
    As a girl, my natural swimming suit choices are one-piece or two. A friend made a good case for a two-piece suit as easier to strip out of.
    An old-fashioned one-piece, on the other hand, complete with bathing cap, seems a warm option.
    Whatever else I wear, footwear is required. Old shoes or crocs are recommended over flip flops. An old pair of Keds makes sense as I will indeed be sprinting into the warmth of a towel, held by a loyal friend who is also declining to plunge, then onto the changing tents.
    So far, none of my friends are willing to join me in the water. When I ask will you join me, they reply how can I donate?
    As I prefer not to be alone among the thousands, I’ve joined a team fielded by Red Red Wine Bar. Other Annapolis bars and restaurants have also organized teams. Corporations are sending delegates to the newly created Corporate Plunge Challenge.
    A little camaraderie, encouragement and goading can go a long way in keeping up your desire to plunge.

Committed to Plunge
    There are times I question my decision to plunge. The water will be cold. I hate cold, much less cold water. Why did I sign up for this?
    Then I think about it some more.
    Before I show up on the beach, many people will have proved their mettle. On Friday, January 25, high-schoolers and Special Olympics Maryland staff take the plunge, and the Super Plungers will start their 24 hourly plunges. Saturday morning at 11am, kids will plunge.
    If they can do it, surely I can. All I have to do is don my two-piece swimsuit (plus oversized T-shirt and board shorts for covering up) and walk into the Bay for a few brief moments.
    I get a bit of comfort from understanding that many others have done this before and plenty of other people — young as well as experienced — will again.
    Plus, immersion isn’t required. Simply putting a toe in is enough. As one of my goals for 2013 is to donate to Locks for Love, I’m going to keep my head above water in order to avoid icicles for hair.
    Raising money for Special Olympics does give me a warm fuzzy feeling, but the idea of that cold water doesn’t.
    At bottom, it’s the Special Olympics Athlete’s Oath that speaks to me the most: Let me win; but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.

Opportunity Knocks
    It’s not too late to register, which you can do online at mdplunge.com. You can even wait to decide on arriving at Sandy Point State Park. For $50 (cash or check) and a signature, you too can be a plunger on Saturday
    Even if you don’t want to plunge, you and your family can join the fun and support Special Olympics. The festival is free to attend with live music, vendors and the entertainment of watching the plungers themselves: 11am is the Pee Wee Plunge, with grown-ups at 1pm and 3pm.
    If you want to watch from afar, follow the plunge on Facebook or Twitter at @mdplunge.