The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

February 2, 2014

Andra Bryan Stefanoni: Polar plungers — crazy, or something more?

PITTSBURG, Kan. — As I write this, I have wrapped myself in my heaviest blanket and have poured my second mug of very warm, very spicy chai. Yet I can’t stop shivering.

I’m not ill. I’m thinking about the interviews I just had with a handful of Pittsburg area residents who on the surface might appear, in a word, crazy.

How else to describe people who willingly jump into a swimming pool in February when the outside air temperature is ... well, the temperature that Kansas is in February?

It could be 9 degrees, it could be 31, it could be 50.

Any of those choices is not warm enough to get me to peel down to my skivvies and jump in water — heck, I don’t even really like stepping into the shower most winter days, and I insist on a set of flannel sheets from about Halloween to April Fool’s Day.

And yet I can’t help but admire people who do such a thing. Dozens of them will do so at noon this Saturday at Crimson Villas, an apartment complex at 1904 S. Rouse St. in Pittsburg. They have signed up to support Special Olympics in the annual Polar Bear Plunge.

Each participant must raise at least $75 to jump. As of Friday afternoon, there were more than 20 teams registered — teams such as the Pittsburg Police Department, with 26 people participating; the Pittsburg State University School of Nursing, with six people participating; and the Pittsburg Family YMCA gymnastics program, with five planning to jump.

Janie Terry, 30, a gymnastics coach at the Y, will be among them.

Someone persuaded her to take part in the plunge last year, and — can you believe this? — she is going to do it again this year! Not only did she survive the jump wearing “a cute shirt and tutu,” she willingly is going to jump again!

“You only live once,” she said.

This year, it was her turn to do the persuading, and she did so with four other gymnastics coaches: Anna Zoller, Abbi Thompson, Cameron Sholz and Ashley Weatherd. They’re going with the theme “Superheroes.”

But Terry acknowledges there is some kryptonite at play here: “It’s very scary. I don’t like pools. I have a fear of water anyway. It’s a huge jump for me, not something that’s super easy. I don’t like going underwater, and it’s cold on top of that, so cold it takes your breath away.”

She rationalizes, however, that it’s for a great cause: Special Olympics athletes who, just like any athlete, simply want a shot at competing. Terry said she also wants to be a good role model for not only her own two children but also for those with whom she works at the Y, including some who have special needs and challenges.

As of Friday, her team members had raised $360. Their goal is $400, and I’m rooting for them.

Turns out they’re not just crazy; they’re also determined, courageous, giving, dedicated and selfless.

Maybe I’ll see you at the plunge Saturday. I’ll be the wimpy one wearing a parka and leg warmers.

And immediately after the plunge, spectators and jumpers may attend the second annual Polar Plunge Chili Cook-off at the First Church of the Nazarene, 816 E. Quincy St., to sample chili made by Chili Appreciation Society International cooks mentoring Special Olympics cooks. The cost is $3 per person, and plungers eat for free.

FOLLOW ANDRA BRYAN STEFANONI on Facebook at facebook.com/andrajournalist and on Twitter @AndraStefanoni.

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