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Culture » Culture Features

Training Day: A scientific approach to preparing for Bend's Polar Plunge


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Some athletes spend months or years training for one day of glory. In preparation for the Vancouver Olympics, skier Lindsey Vonn trained six to eight hours a day, six days a week, engaging in a mix of hardcore cardio and weight training.

My day of glory arrives this Friday, when I will join hundreds of brave souls as we jump into the icy waters of the Deschutes in the name of Special Olympics Oregon. Luckily, I am already in excellent physical condition. I can run nearly 3 miles without stopping, do a handstand for at least two seconds before falling over, and just last week, I ate half of a foot-long salami in one sitting. However, I have a weakness. Call it my Kryptonite. I loathe being cold.

As a warm-blooded human, exposure to cold water is not recommended. According to the Oregon State Marine Board, "the effects of cold water immersion can lead to death in just a few minutes and in some cases, instantly." Fortunately this isn't Michigan, where some polar plunges involve cutting a hole in a frozen lake and jumping feet-first into the black waters with the trout and salmon, causing the fish to affirm their theory that humans are dumb creatures with very small brains. The Deschutes, however, is currently flowing at a frigid 39 degrees, or the approximate temperature of melted ice.

While jumping into winter water without a dry suit may seem pointless, the Polar Plunge is actually an incredibly effective fundraising movement that occurs throughout the country every year to benefit the Special Olympics. Last year, between the Bend and Portland plunges, Oregon raised over $170,000. This year there are five plunges throughout Oregon and the first two have already netted $170,000.

Having raised nearly $300 for Special Olympics Oregon with my team, failure was not an option. Therefore, I had to find a way to handle the extreme cold of the Deschutes. Plan A was alcohol. Alcohol causes our skin to flush, making us feel much warmer than we are. My theory was that if I didn't feel cold, I wouldn't mind jumping into the river. I realized that alcohol can actually increase the body's susceptibility to hypothermia when exposed to cold water, but I decided to give the theory a test-run anyway. Last Wednesday, my favorite drinking buddies and I gathered at the Westside Tavern.

After a few too many, it was time to test my hypothesis, so I went home and drew an ice-cold bath. Unfortunately, before I ventured into the water, I decided to lie down on my bed. I woke up the next morning with a pounding headache, looked at the lonely cold water still sitting in my bathtub, and realized that I'd need a different tactic for handling the plunge.

Mark Evertz, VP of Marketing for Special Olympics Oregon, took a more informed approach when preparing for his first plunge last year in Portland - he went to a doctor.

"I was told to slowly turn the dial down on my showers until I was completely at cold water," he said. Theoretically, this prepares your body for the icy river water and reduces the shock your body experiences. He was also told to eat a lot of fish in the weeks leading up to the plunge, as the Omega 3's may also aid in shock reduction.

While this method is not nearly as fun as a night of debauchery at Westside, I decided to give it a go. So I turned on the water in my bathroom on hot until the steam filled the space and my skin turned red from the heat. Then I slowly turned down the dial, until the water was warm, then tepid, then cool. Finally, I turned it all the way to cold. It felt like I was being attacked by hundreds of tiny, angry snowmen. I screamed in terror and my body, under no volition of my mind, jumped out of the shower.

So now I'm eating fish. I don't think it will help a whole lot, but I've decided to accept that Friday will pretty much suck and I'm OK with that. After all, as Evertz said, "It's the least we can do to suffer through a couple minutes of cold to help our athletes and their families achieve dreams."

Polar Plunge Bend

6:30 pm, Friday, February 26. Riverbend Park, 799 SW Columbia Street.

To read about Friday's plunge and see pictures of Sara freezing her butt off, check out

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