Admittedly, a Saturday event at Homeplace Recreational Park more closely resembled a typical summer day at the pool rather than what one would expect for the late-February Polar Plunge hosted there.
After all, the air temperature was trending toward an unseasonably balmy 70 degrees, and the water in the Homeplace pool at Ararat — though supplied by a nearby creek — wasn’t exactly frigid.
“The water temperature is a record 55 degrees this year,” Bradley Key, an organizer for the seventh-annual event who is with Surry County Parks and Recreation, announced over a loudspeaker as a group of people prepared to enter the pool.
However, one soon got the impression that the determined-looking bunch — officially known as “plungers” — would have been just as willing to dive into an ice-fishing hole in Antarctica if that’s what was required.
The plungers, numbering about 20, represented different age groups and walks of life, but all had a common mission: a desire to support the Surry County Special Olympics program offering year-round sports activities for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
“I’ve been working with special-needs (individuals) for a long time, so it’s a cause near and dear to my heart,” said Leslie Watts, 23, a college student from Ararat who is a veteran of several Polar Plunges.
“And her brother is one of the athletes in our local program,” Key said of Watts’ additional support for a sibling who is one of about 300 active participants in local Special Olympics activities.
“It is a little special motivation,” she said of that aspect.
Persons taking the plunge were introduced to the crowd of onlookers, and dedicated their entry into the water to a person or program involved in Surry County Special Olympics. Those names also were announced, with the spectators supplying encouraging cheers to everyone becoming one with the pool.
Just for the record, even 55-degree water can be unpleasant to the touch for warm-bloodied creatures.
This was confirmed both by slipping a right index finger into the pool and the reaction of those submerging their entire bodies.
“It’s cold!” Rob Smith exclaimed as he slowly made his way into the water before disappearing from view momentarily.
Smith and some other plungers chose the “zero-degree-entry” option — which involved simply strolling in from the shallow end of the pool. Other choices were going in via a waterslide, using a rope swing or diving from the side into water that was 4 feet deep.
Watts chose the dive-in-from-the-side option — quick in and quick out rather than exposing one’s body gradually. “Just do it all at once,” said the Gardner-Webb University student.
The young lady, who dedicated her jump to the Special Olympics softball program, added that she has learned a few tricks from past Polar Plunge events posing much colder water.
“Basically, I just try to wear as few clothes as possible,” said Watts, who was dressed in a pixie outfit that also helped her win a costume contest held just before the plunging.
“If you go from being really warm to really cold water it’s too much of a shock to your system,” she explained.
The pool had been drained after last season, but filled from the creek especially for the Polar Plunge and afterward was to be drained again.
Members of the Surry County EMS and Mount Airy Rescue Squad stood by in case there were any issues, but all the plungers emerged intact.
Some chicken out
Saturday’s Polar Plunge was expected to generate about $5,000 to $6,000 to support various Special Olympics programs, according to Chrystal Whitt, another organizer for the event.
This occurred through a variety of fundraising options among plungers. And those who didn’t wish to enter the water also could help by contributing $20 for a T-shirt bearing the message “Too Chicken to Plunge (so I bought this shirt to support Special Olympics Surry County).”
Quite a few folks were wearing those T-shirts Saturday.
“There are a few less jumpers this year,” Key said in comparison to past Polar Plunges.
“But a lot more people are supporting us with ‘Too Chicken to Plunge’ shirts.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.