Icy plunge a breath-taking experience

By SABRINA HAYES/Montana State News

The wind picked up just in time as I prepared to jump into the freezing waters of the East Gallatin Recreation Area with the other 170 plungers for the 13th annual Polar Plunge in Bozeman. President’s Day began warm and sunny – slightly breezy.

The author, second from right, following a plunge into the icy waters of the East Gallatin Recreation area to raise money for Special Olympics Montana.
The author, second from right, following a plunge into the icy waters of the East Gallatin Recreation area to raise money for Special Olympics Montana.

I joked as I registered the team, “I bet this wind picks up in about half an hour when we’re jumping in.”

Dressed in costume among the other Avengers, divas and devils, we stood above the lake, watching down the red carpet leading to the ice. Before plungers arrived, event organizers used chainsaws to cut through the thick ice to get to the freezing water, leaving a small area for plungers.

As my partner and I ran down the hill to the water I wished only that I had worn shoes. By the time I reached the slush and bits of ice in the ankle deep water, the pieces cut like knives against my freezing feet. It was almost a relief to leave the shallows and plunge.

Then I forgot how to breathe. My body and my brain froze. The volunteers in wetsuits were there to make sure I didn’t drown and the volunteers outside the water, there to help me get out, reached out their hands. But my brain wasn’t functioning. As I scrambled on the ice, they eventually half lifted me out by the armpits.

The run back up the hill is a blur. I remember climbing into the hot tub and then climbing out to make room for the next team. My time in the warm water was far too short.

Would I do it again? Absolutely.

Another plunger, Brittany Hackwell, said, “I loved the experience. It was cold, but worth it. Someone came up to me afterward and shook my hand and thanked me left and right for participating. They were so grateful and it made the whole thing worth it.”

Bozeman plungers raised over $60,000 for Special Olympics Montana.

“I wouldn’t normally want to jump into freezing water but when it’s for a cause like the Special Olympics, how can you say no?” said Alice Ireland, another jumper.

Aspiring plungers register online and collect pledges. Donors act as sponsors offering support for both the plunger’s courage and Montana Special Olympics. According to Montana Special Olympics, donations provide funding for year-round trainings and competitions for physically and mentally disabled children and adults.

“After helping Special Olympics for the last five years in my hometown, I couldn’t have found a better way to really join and feel like I’m a part of the community here in Bozeman,” said Katharine Taylor, who moved to Bozeman this year.

Montana Special Olympics held the opening ceremonies for the 2014 State Winter Games in Whitefish, Mont. February 23. Competition finished on February 25. The 2014 State Summer Games will begin May 14 in Billings.


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