When the air’s cold enough, the warmest part of a wintertime polar bear plunge might be the water.
Saturday morning was bright and cold when a few hundred people filled a little corner of Beaver Lake, laughing and screaming and splashing as they willingly launched themselves into 30-some-degree water. Costumes and swimsuits didn’t do much to stop plungers’ body heat from seeping away into the water and the even chillier air. On impact with the water, people’s faces stretched into wide-mouthed shock, teeth-gritting intensity or all-out laughter, as if they couldn’t believe they got in this situation. This is fun, right?
I have to assume the self-inflicted agony is at least a little fun, because people do these plunges all over the world, usually out of charity or piety. This particular plunge raised money for Special Olympics Arkansas, the state chapter of the broader organization that runs sports competitions and opportunities for people with mental and disabilities. A crowd ranging from schoolkids to grandparents turned out to give around $50,000 to the group.
Many also took the chance to show off their diving form or occasionally wacky costumes. Waldos and Oompa Loompas, a Chinese-style dragon and the whole Peanuts gang huddled together like penguins before diving in. They jumped in without hesitation and bolted out with equal gusto. A shrieking flock of high-school kids flew out of the water especially quickly toward waiting blankets and towels. Kids wrapped in towel cocoons dashed for their cars as their parents came up behind. “Invigorating!” one woman yelled out, smiling big as she dried herself off. I sure hope so, you wild people. It was at least fun to watch.