On Saturdays we are given the option to sleep in, but last week I was up at the regular time of 7:00am. Me and three other cabin mates made our way out the front door reluctantly and shuffled to the waterfront. The weather was less than ideal for swimming. Jesse, Will and I eyed each other uneasily. In contrast to the usual crowd who trade their warmth for the adrenaline rush of plunging into the brackish waters off the peninsula, only three stood nervously that morning. Becca, a science teacher, used a paddle to break the layer of ice that guarded entry to the ocean. Once the ice was breached we had no excuses. In that moment, the last thing I would have ever dreamed of doing was submerging myself in freezing water. We had been standing in the 7 degree weather in only our swimsuits for the last five minutes, and the snow was no longer instantly melting when it found our backs and shoulders. When water is on your skin, it pulls heat away from you as it evaporates; that’s why we sweat when we heat up. Going in this water meant we were going to coat ourselves in salty, heat-robbing H2O. Surely we would be sensible and decide to go back to our cabins and enjoy a warm cup of coffee, but of course that wasn’t the case.
My peers presence encouraged me to follow through with the plunge. Teaming up into a trio, we walked into the water slowly. I turned and saw Will duck under. I quickly did the same thing. The water stabbed me with its frigidity, untamed and unforgiving. With our submersion having been completed, we sprinted out of the water. I grabbed my backpack and the tea I had made earlier and began running towards campus. My sprint was valiant at first, but within 100 yards my legs stopped functioning within their normal range of motion, so I settled into a waddling motion. During that time, my hands had cooled to the point of uselessness, so I began pouring the boiling hot tea on them. As quickly as the hot relief would come across my digits the wind and snow would steal it away and in its place leave a colder cold. I continued waddling until I arrived at the Allen Center and whispered a quiet “thank you” when the warm air within surrounded me. My body was cold but I felt strangely elated. A survival instinct had been activated within me, heating my core in a surreal way. I walked into a hot shower, feeling the clarity and relaxation instilled upon me by my shocking plunge.
I know that every subsequent polar plunge will never touch the coldness of that Saturday morning. The experience was an important one to have. It taught me that out of the most trying experience may come the greatest learning. If you chance upon this campus on a Saturday morning, turn to the west and see if you catch the sight of shivering, yet laughing, students shuffling back to campus. If you do, know that they just learned much more than how cold the Maine ocean is.
Kai, Boulder High School, Colorado