Friday, March 13, 2009

Thawed Out

My apologies to those of you who have been wondering if I got frozen in Loon Lake over the weekend or if I was able to wade in, and then out again a frozen Jen-sicle.  Here are the details of the Plunge... 

The Polar Plunge did indeed take place on Sunday March 8th at Silver Springs State Park in Yorkville, IL.  It was one of 17 sites in Illinois where teams met who had raised money to donate to Special Olympics Illinois and in exchange plunged in to the freezing cold (and in the case of some plunge sites--icy) water.  Our plunge was the second to last to take place this year, with the last taking place this weekend.  

We parked off-site and were bussed to the lake.  As I stepped off of the bus and glimpsed the lake I vaguely registered with relief that there was no ice in the vicinity of the plunge site, but felt my breath catch as I realized that yikes, that was a big, deep lake...and hey it's like 40 degrees out here.

It was rainy, muddy, messy, and cold.  The tent in which the pre and post festivities took place had heaters going and plenty of straw on the ground to try to keep our feet dry--until even that became soaked and it was just a big mud puddle.  

As the rain continued to pour down, the straw did little more than become a sponge for all that rain and mud.  Our spirits were not dampened.  The Power Plungers donned their costumes (wigs, masks, capes and mini-plungers) and danced around the tent waving their plungers and singing "We are Family."  

The rain continued to pour as we moved our towels and dry clothes to the "warming tent" and lined up to take our plunge. 

Teams began plunging, cheered on by a brave crowd weathering the elements and by fellow plungers eagerly waiting their turn.  That was when the lightning started.

We were about 4 teams away from plunging, when everyone had to get out of the lake, out of line and back into the tent for saftey.  We were told by folks in charge that they weren't sure when or even if we'd be able to plunge as the lightning continued.  
Swanny, Peanut and Swanny Jr. were there to cheer my team and me on.  Before the ligtning had started, they had staked out a location along the lake, umbrellas in hand.  But as the rain continued to fall, the mud got worse and the uncertainty of our team plunging loomed, I told them to catch the next bus to the parking lot and head home.  No less than 5 minutes after I watched my family head out on their bus, the word came down--we're plunging now!  We got in line and psyched ourselves up.  We came up for our turn and the 19 of us ran forward into the lake.

It. Was. Cold.

We were already soaking wet so it wasn't too much of a shock, but my feet, which had been wet for about an hour and a half already went numb instantly.  We waved our plungers, cheered and splashed.  Two brave souls completely submerged themselves under the water--not me--maybe next year!  We all headed for the warming tent and our dry towels and clothes.  I headed out rather than staying for the lunch and post-plunge events.  I wanted to get home to my family and my warm bed for a nap.

Our team won the prestigious Golden Plunger for raising the most money of any of the teams at our plunge location.  And, thus far, we appear to be the leading team in the state in terms of raising the most money for all plunge locations.  

We were all so proud of ourselves and of the people who came together to donate to us--we pulled in nearly $20,000.00 for Special Olympics Illinois over about a 3 week period.  In reflecting on it though, it's not the large amount of money we raised in the short period of time that moves me about this whole experience.  

For me, it was the chance to actively show support for a movement that supports children and families with whom I work directly.  A chance to support an organization that provides invaluable experiences for children who would otherwise maybe not know what it is like to get recognition or reward for dedication and hard work.  I so often think that many of the kids I work with are so rarely told or shown that they are good at anything, when truly they all have greatness within them.  Special Olympics allows them to tap into their inner potential and see what they can do.  As Mrs. T, our team leader and special ed. teacher extrodinaire says to her class and as she said to all of us, "Who can't do it?  Show me you can't."  Our team certainly rose to that challenge.  It was truly an honor to take on that challenge in order to show how much we value the athletes, their families and the organization of Special Olympics.

It was inspiring to have a few of our students on hand at the plunge, reminding us of why we were voluntarily out in the wet, the cold and the mud.  Here, I was able to get a great shot of Mrs. T.'s daughter showing off the 2 gold medals that she won at the swim meet just the day before qualifying her for state.  

The joy and pride on that young woman's face was priceless and spoke volumes.  It was such a great reminder to me that we were all there to be a part of something that had such a bigger purpose than just being cold and wet.  To have a sense that you belong to something with a bigger meaning can really bring you moments of clarity about who you are and what life is really about...I only hope that everyone out there experiences those moments too.  I know for a fact that any person who participates in Special Olympics does and I know that by participating in the Polar Plunge I did.  I think those of you who donated to our cause can feel a part of that higher purpose too.   Thank you so much.  I can't wait to do this again next year.


Swanny said...

There was such a great energy at the plunge, I didn't even mind that much when my shoes and feet got drenched and muddy. Great job to you and the rest of your team.

Rikki said...

What a great post Jen!

You guys were/are freaking awesome!

20 G's! That is a lot of moolah-moolah!

You, and all of your fellow plungers should be so proud of yourselves. Special Olympics is such a wonderful organization and you all helped make it a little better!

Kudos to you all.

I look forward to sponsoring you next year! :)

zztopdog said...

Awesome post! And kudos to your whole team for taking the plunge and for raising so much money!

deb said...

Job well done, Jen. You are woman!!!!

Anonymous said...

Good job Jen. You are one brave soul.