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March Of The Penguins

My first experience taking part in the Penguin Plunge at Ocean Beach Park

Whenever you do something counterintuitive or crazy, you’ll notice that there’s a distinct moment when you cross a line and can’t turn back.

When I went skydiving, it happened while standing on the edge of an airplane’s open door thousands of feet up, the jumpmaster about a fraction of a second away from ending his count and propelling both of us into the void. Another time, it happened in midway through a leap off a waterfall with just enough time to contemplate the icy water coming closer and wonder why I'd jumped.

And last Sunday, the moment came at the very edge of the surf at , dashing alongside several other members of the Hanafin’s Pint Plungers. There was one last opportunity to stop short, retreat as the rest of the team plunged in, and face the shame and ignominy of such cowardice. And then this was gone, because I had enough momentum to at least get my feet wet.

My participation in this year’s was one of those things that came about with little rhyme or reason. I may have expressed a passing interest in joining in the zany fundraiser for the Special Olympics. My regional editor, Elissa Bass, mentioned at one point that I had been “volunteered” to take the plunge. I knew a couple of people on the team, signed up, and raised some money through co-workers and friends.

It’s all a pretty typical story for the Plunge. As Greg Smith, captain of the New London County Rugby, said, “We just ask people, friends and family. That’s pretty much it.” It’s all for a good cause, and in a way you’re giving those who know you an odd incentive: give a bit of money, and we’ll jump into the frigid ocean.

Whenever I mentioned the plunge and how it was my first time doing it, I got a different piece of advice. Don’t dunk your head, it’s easier to get hypothermia that way. Have someone waiting with a towel or blanket. It’s not the plunge itself but getting out that’s the worst part. Don’t go in with a lot of clothes on. Be careful, there’s a drop-off not too far in and you might go sprawling if you hit it wrong.

This year was certainly a lucky break for a first-time plunger. As opposed to last year, when the beach had to be cleared of snow and the air temperature offered no relief to participants, this Plunge had an above-freezing climate with uninhibited sunlight. Plenty of people were wandering around in shorts and short sleeves, or hanging out in swim trunks and bikinis while waiting for their wave. Once you were used to it, the first few steps into the waves and the final sprawl to immerse your upper body wasn’t much more unbearable than a summertime dash from radiant sand into considerably cooler water.

That said, they weren’t lying about how leaving the water is the worst part. Once I’d plunged, a quick look around revealed a lot of faces with a single mindset: Let’s get the hell out of here. Which soon led to the molasses-like fight through the water and the reward of a bone-chilling wind once you finally got back on terra firma.

All told, however, this is quite a fun event. Even if your first thought once you’re in the water is to get out, you don’t spend too long back on the beach before you think, I could do that again. I’ve already encouraged (or threatened) the formation of a Patch team for next year. 

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Lori Hopkins-Cavanagh February 26, 2012 at 10:15 PM
You go Dirk!

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