It’s a beautiful, 13 degree day in February. Lake Champlain is completely frozen over. Looking across the lake to New York’s Adirondack Mountains, there is a coat of ice and snow connecting the two shores. And there are hundreds of crazy people plunging into the lake.
On Saturday, February 7th, Burlington hosted the 20th annual Penguin Plunge, which was an awesome way to kick-start the city’s Winter Festival weekend. Over 1,200 people took the plunge and submerged themselves in the icy waters of Lake Champlain to raise money for Special Olympics Vermont – about $400,000 in total by the end of the event.
I participated in this legendary plunge with five of my medical school classmates on the Dr. Freeze team. On our class Facebook page, I was challenged by a classmate to participate in the event, and without even hesitating, I immediately clicked on the link and registered. I am not quite sure why I made such an impulsive decision. It is probably due to the fact that I never back down from a challenge, and I always say yes to whatever is presented to me. But I think I also just wanted to participate in a Burlington community event and support a great cause. Way too often, I get trapped in this bubble surrounding medical school and I forget that I live in a beautiful and unique city. As a medical student, I sometimes feel isolated and segregated from the community, and I try to make conscious decisions to immerse myself in the culture more and participate in the community events. I love the UVM College of Medicine, my classmates, and pretty much everything else about it, but sometimes it is nice to step away and realize there is so much more to life than the Larner Classroom. Participating in the event, It felt great to cheer for my community as earlier waves took the plunge, and to be cheered on by so many complete strangers who supported my actions.
About a week after I registered, I started getting cold feet (pun intended) about taking the plunge. There are not very many things that I hate in life more than cold water. I might as well break the ice here, but even in the dead of summer, I have to slowly ease myself into even a heated pool; just diving in is frightening and cold. I know I am disappointing all of my Californians, but water is just not my thing. My fear of cold water actually ended up being a positive motivator to participate. I believe challenging yourself and conquering your fears can pay off in some amazing ways. Plus it builds character and stuff.
About a minute before our wave began, my classmates and I were jumping around in the heating tent, trying to pump ourselves up as much as we could. A sudden feeling of doom glazed over me and I surged with anxiety, excitement, and pretty much every emotion in between. And then, the buzzer went off, the tent flaps opened up, and we were running down to the boat ramp. My team linked arms with each other as we ran into the water. The moment my big toe hit the water, I knew I had to just dive in, or else I would never get in that water. The next minute is a real blur in my memory – it is crazy how the mind can black out traumatic memories. My body went into a state of shock once I went in the water. I did not feel cold, because it all happened too quickly to register anything. My muscles froze up and my mind went blank. I suddenly forgot who I was, what I was doing, and what I needed to do to get out of this and make it stop. Once I surfaced from the icy bath, a wave of adrenaline crash over me. This feeling is completely indescribable, but it was the greatest rush of endorphins I have ever experienced. I felt completely invincible. It took about five minutes, after I was already drying off and changing in the warming tents, to even realize that I was cold. It was such a strange experience. My surge of energy and ecstasy remained with me for the rest of the day, and it was pretty incredible. I will absolutely do it again next year, so I can continue to support a great cause and my community, but also because I might be addicted to that adrenaline feeling now. I strongly urge everyone to take the Penguin Plunge next year. It is a life changing experience!