Nine souls braved the elements last Saturday at the 17th annual Fishkill Polar Plunge. Freshman Carolina Alvarez, junior Lucy Brainerd, sophomore Rory Chipman, junior Elias Kim, junior Sebastien Lasseur, freshman Amanda McFarland, junior Angela Mentel, junior Aimee Dubois and senior Justin Mitchell took part in the festivities.
Plunges similar to the one in Fishkill are held in areas around the world for various reasons. In Canada, these “plunges” or “dips” are held on New Year’s Day to welcome in the new year. In the Netherlands and England, the traditions of “Nieuwjaarsduik” and the “Loony Dook” respectively occur on New Year’s Day as well. England’s “Loony Dook” is usually preceded by a parade of people dressed as “loonies” who often wear their costumes into the water. In the U.S., the dates are more flexible, yet the plunge is typically held to raise money for a specific cause.
The annual event in Fishkill is open to all members of the Hudson Valley. It attracts many local businesses: Poughkeepsie’s Mahoney’s Pub, Beacon’s police force, as well as local radio stations Rock 93.3 and 96.1 Kiss FM to name a few. Even if team members are “too chicken” to take the plunge as the Fishkill Plunge site stated, they can still donate and recieve all the benefits of their fellow plungers. Our own Vassar participants were a little late to sign up, giving themselves only two weeks before the event to begin fundraising.
The Fishkill Plunge is partnered with the Special Olympics and raises money for said contest. “[It’s a] great cause that needs a lot of financial support. It felt great to know that our efforts were supporting the families around us to continue doing exciting events that further building awareness and support,” wrote Chipman in an emailed statement.
Vassar has a division three athletics program and thus is also partnered with the Special Olympics. “We’re looking to develop and expand the relationship this year and in future years, but the polar plunge seemed like a great way to facilitate that relationship,” wrote Dubois in an emailed statement.Senior lacrosse player Scott Brekne first broached the topic at the SAAC meeting in January. The board agreed that it would be a great way to begin building their relationship with the Special Olympics and Dubois carried the idea forward. She organized the team’s home page and began recruiting from within the athletic community.
The group’s goal was to raise $800 and reach fifteen members. Dobois was worried about how fundraising would go. She stated, “Because we only had about two weeks to form a team and fundraise, I anticipated that we would only be able to raise a couple hundred dollars. We far exceeded that. I think that because the Special Olympics is such a revered organization, people are enthusiastic to donate and get involved.” Although they didn’t get fifteen members, the team managed to raise $910.
Tactics varied as to the best way to raise awareness and get friends and family to donate. “Most of us posted a link on Facebook so that people could donate either to the team or to our individual pages,” Brainerd wrote. While most used social media to get the message out there, Chipman took a slightly different approach. “I sent out a fairly long email to family and friends explaining the event and why I wanted to participate. I got several very positive responses.” Chipman led the group in donations.
A large part of why many of the participants decided to join was the charity aspect of the event, but for some that wasn’t the only reason. “Personally I have heard about plunges before and have always wanted to participate in one. Most of them are great because they encourage you to view it as a cleansing experience, but this was for charity which made it even more enticing,” wrote Brainerd.
For most of Vassar’s team it was the first Polar Plunge they had taken part in. It seems that the team was slightly unprepared for the event. Both Chipman and Dubois complained about their toes. “The run down to the lake was the coldest part, as we trudged through snow wearing shorts and flip flops. The jump itself was into a cut-out in a frozen lake, so you can imagine it was frigid. We couldn’t feel our toes,” wrote Dubois. Chipman was even more vocal about the peril she’d put her lower appendages through, “I experienced sheer fear that my toes were going to fall off. I didn’t even feel the water when I jumped in because I was so concerned about my toes. I wore horrible shoes that basically ended up falling off as I attempted to trek up a long snow bank. It took me three hours to rehabilitate my feet and toes.”
The event took place near Splashdown Beach, a water park in Fishkill. The organizers had cut a small area into the lake so people could jump in up to three at a time. The teams assembled in a hut, where they were serving food, drinks and playing music, psyching people up to go out into twenty degree weather and jump into freezing cold water. Dubois commented on the rest of the crowd that day. “There were a lot of people at the event to take the plunge and I could sense a lot of enthusiasm toward helping the Special Olympics. I even overheard some people saying it was their tenth consecutive year participating in the plunge,” she explained.
Brainerd set the scene perfectly. “nine of us (men’s and women’s soccer and golf) met up a few hours ahead of time and caravanned to Fishkill. We went to a parking lot where we got on school buses that drove us up to the lake area. It was cold enough at the bottom, but at the top near the water it was just frigid. The wind was blowing snow everywhere and I think we all started to question why we decided to go through with it. The water was completely frozen over, they had only cut out a small chunk for us to jump in. It was like we were looking at a huge open field covered with snow in some arctic tundra…not the best place to be half naked. We also ran into the crew team inside! More Vassar representation!”
Brainerd continued, “When it was our turn to go out, we all stripped down into spandex, sports bras, bathing suits, etc. and started to migrate toward the water. Walking to the water was definitely worse than jumping in because we had to trudge through more than a foot of snow with wind blowing everywhere. It was a disaster. Down at the water, everyone got in a single file line and we jumped in singles, doubles and triples.” There was a tent for people to change out of their wet clothes once they had finished the plunge, but unfortunately, our Vassar participants were unaware of that, and so had to run back through the snow banks to the hut to retrieve their warm clothes.
The students agreed that the event was well organized. Still, Chipman added, “I wish they had marked the path a bit better so that so many people didn’t end up walking down and back up the snow bank.”
Looking back on the event, all of them expressed their desire for repeating the experience. “I would absolutely do it again. Suffering through a few minutes of freezing cold is a pretty small price to pay for a really great cause,” wrote Brainerd. Chipman agreed but felt she might make a few adjustments, “I would do it again but bring proper shoes. If my feet weren’t cold the experience would have been a lot less stressful.” Added Dubois, “While I would definitely prefer to jump on a day that was a bit warmer than 20 degrees, I would do it again.”