Posted by: sonewjersey | February 28, 2012

Outside My Comfort Zone

by Nicole Composto, SONJ communications manager and first-time Plunger

About a year ago, a friend and I made a pledge to make 2012 a year for stepping outside our comfort zones. We made a list of travel destinations we would normally never think to visit, and activities that we’d otherwise decline participating in.

Taking a “Polar Bear Plunge” was one of the many activities we jotted down. I was unfamiliar with the Plunge event itself, not really knowing who it benefited or where it was held. All I really knew was that a few times a year, a group of brave (and, I thought, crazy) individuals braced themselves and jumped into the frigidAtlanticfor a good cause.

At this time, I was unemployed. About six months after putting our list together, however, I became a full-time employee with Special Olympics New Jersey (SONJ). During my training I found out, much to my pleasant surprise, that the Polar Bear Plunge is held every year to benefit SONJ.

I immediately called my friend to tell her the good news. In the time that had passed, though, it seemed she became less and less interested in the idea of running into 30-degree water on a blustery February day. Although I was not able to convince her to sign up for the Plunge, I registered myself as soon as I could, with a promise to SONJ that I would then blog about my experience as both an employee and first-time plunger.

I spent most of the time leading up to the plunge raising money for the event and spreading the word out to anyone I knew who might also be interested in plunging. I first emailed close family and friends, then used Facebook to get the word out to everyone else.

I originally set a goal of $100, and unexpectedly blew past it in the first 24 hours. I then raised my goal to $200, and eventually surpassed that as well. I didn’t have high expectations, but I raised my goal to $300 anyway. In the final hours before the plunge, I managed to raise $360.

I was happy that my attempts at spreading the word had been successful, and I was proud of my friends and family for helping SONJ. One of my friends took notice of my Facebook posts promoting the Plunge and said that he, too, was trying to step outside the box this year after having a rough 2011. He jokingly commented that he should do the Plunge as well. I then made it my personal mission to bring him on board with the idea, and 3 weeks later he registered. I now had a Plunge buddy.

I had many friends and family advising me in the weeks leading up to the plunge that I should somehow prep or “condition” myself for what lay ahead. I was often advised to “take cold showers” in the hopes that I would get used to the feeling enough to not be so shocked when I ran into the water. I briefly tried this technique in the shower, only to shriek like a child and turn the faucet back to the hottest setting. That was as much “conditioning” as I planned to do.

The night before the plunge, I was extremely excited. I had to first work the event in the morning with SONJ before actually plunging. Everyone in the office had been working really hard in the weeks leading up to the event to make sure that all the Plungers had as effortless and enjoyable experience as possible. I had no idea what to expect.

My first insight into how serious people take the Plunge event came when I was driving to Seaside. After many second-glances to make sure I was actually seeing what I thought I was seeing, I realized that the driver in the car in front of me was dressed full-Mime. Striped shirt, white face paint, suspenders. I laughed to myself and started to see just how into it people were.

When I reached the beach, the weather was in the high 30s with extremely strong winds. I regret not wearing more layers! And, to make matters worse, I realized that I forgot to pack a towel (of all things to forget). I instantly called a friend and she arrived with two towels and agreed to be my honorary “towel holder” for when I stepped out of the water.

With each passing minute and each gust of wind, the thought of running into the ocean was really sinking in and becoming pretty daunting. But I slowly became more and more excited, feeding off the energy of the plungers. Every person I passed looked full of anticipation with huge smiles on their faces.

At about 12:30, all the plungers gathered on the beach. The hum of energy and rush of adrenaline was contagious. So many people of varying ages, some costumed and some not, some excited and some apprehensive, had all gathered to take part in this one crazy and courageous act, all to benefit Special Olympics New Jersey.

I was equal parts fear and excitement as the time came to plunge. I was expecting a loud horn or whistle, but I think some plungers just jumped the gun and I found myself being pushed along by my friend, who kept urging me forward. I felt like I was running for my life.

At this point, I wasn’t even thinking anymore. I was just doing. Another step, then another step, then I was IN! My friend was at my back pushing me in further and further into the water all the way until we reached the last lifeguard. Keeping true to my promise, I ducked so I was in up to my chin and then ran as fast as I could to get out of the water.

It was every man for himself upon exiting, and I may have inadvertently elbowed some innocent plungers as I made my mad dash for the shore, since at this point I was truly convinced that my lungs, legs and body hated me and something was going to give out. I exited the ocean far from where I entered it, and eventually made my way back to my “towel holder”. I was glad to wrap myself in terrycloth, and put on as many layers as I could right there on the beach.

I looked around to see everyone’s face of agony (as mine must have been priceless) but instead all I saw were smiles!! Everyone was shivering and laughing. I initially didn’t have a smile on my face, but seeing everyone else so happy made me happy too. Happy to be part of something so big and so positive, and proud of myself for doing something I would normally never even consider doing.

I looked over at my friend, partially expecting him to hate me for roping him into it, but he had a huge grin on his face and gave me a sincerely ecstatic high-five. He couldn’t thank me enough for talking him into Plunging.

Not only did I have a great time, but I really took pleasure in seeing everyone else enjoy themselves as much as I did. Plunging was an experience I will never forget and I already look forward to next year!

A record 5,937 people plunged this year in Seaside Heights, raising over $1.4 million for Special Olympics New Jersey! Online donations are still being collected through May. To sponsor Nicole or another plunger, click HERE. For more photos from the 2012 Seaside Heights Polar Bear Plunge, click HERE.

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