Wide Awake: The Plunge – Part II
Yep, I did it. And it was cold.

Last month, I wrote about my plan to participate in the Polar Bear Plunge. I put it out into the world that I would be running into icy water on New Year’s Day, even though I’m always cold. I was afraid, and I was nervous, and I was freezing. But when the horn went off, I ran in.

I decided to take the plunge – and Joe said he would join me – after hearing former TV reporter Lu Ann Cahn speak about a special project, where she did something new every day for a year. (See her story on p. 20.) Lu Ann motivated me, and I was ready to, as she says, “do the new.”

But when temperatures here took a dive right around Christmas Eve, I started to panic. I imagined what the ice-cold water would feel like and wasn’t sure if I could follow through. But then I pictured myself writing this column and saying I chickened out. That would be worse than the cold, so I was going in – somehow.

I turned to Google for help and found checklists to help me prepare, but most are for people taking the Plunge in places like Michigan, where I now know it takes about 10 minutes for hypothermia to set in. The internet did say I should be most concerned with what I do when I come out of the water. So I packed two towels, sweatpants, a turtleneck, a sweatshirt and a windbreaker. I also wore UGGs and heavy wool socks. They were the first things I put on when I came out.

So here’s the killer about the Plunge: To get to the deeper water, you have to run for about 100 feet in water that comes mid-calf. Your feet immediately start to freeze and feel numb (and really, immediately). It’s like you’re running, and your feet have turned into bricks. My concern turned from being too cold to “My feet are about to stop moving.” It was like my body was trying to stop me, because it didn’t like what I was doing. I started running faster because I definitely wanted to make it to the deeper water. You can’t do the Plunge half way.

Joe was ahead of me. His goal was to dive into a wave, so we had agreed he would just go on his own. But when he got to the deeper water, a wave knocked him over, and once he came up, he realized it was too cold to continue, so he started to run back. He said he was sure I would already be back on the shore, but then he saw me still running out. When he saw me, he waved his arms and yelled, “No, go back, go back.”

I was only in about waist deep, and I wasn’t ready to go back, but Joe had this look on his face that made me think there might be enemy ships ahead, so I turned around. Before I did though, I ducked down to get wet. There was no way I wasn’t completing this 100 percent.

Then we ran the 330 miles back to shore with ice bricks attached to our feet.

The cold had taken my breath away – literally – and I couldn’t talk for about two minutes. Our kids were there to take pictures and video, hold towels and just make sure we made it out alive. 

My goal with taking the plunge was to zap my brain into trying new things to maybe add some energy and excitement into my life. But when I was on the beach that day, there hadn’t been a lightning bolt or any wave of change sweeping over me. I didn’t think anything was different, because I still felt like me.

But in the month since the Plunge, I’ve gone to yoga at the Philadelphia Art Museum (twice). Joe and I went to hear an astronaut speak (awesome), we painted our family room walls navy blue (love it), and I ate a beet salad at a new restaurant (ok, I don’t have to like everything). But it’s like my brain thinks, “Oh, yeah, we do new things now.”

So maybe it’s correct to feel I’m still me. Maybe I just have some new things to look forward to in the year ahead. And that is exactly why I planned to take the plunge, and exactly why I kept running when my body wanted me to go back. Here’s to a happy new year.

If you’d like to see video of Joe and I taking the plunge (it isn’t pretty), check out my Instagram @mariannealeardi.

February 2019
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