February 7, 2013

Off Beat: Polar dare

Some ocean dippers take the plunge for charity, some for f-f-f-fun.

By Ray Routhier rrouthier@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The Maine Polar Dip to benefit Camp Sunshine, scheduled for Saturday at East End Beach in Portland, has been rescheduled due to the approaching storm to March 2.

click image to enlarge

Beth Dimond, fourth from right, public affairs coordinator for Natural Resources Council of Maine, convinced fiance Chris Comeau and friends Janine Palmer, Christine Huot, Francesca DeSanctis, Jessica Creedon, Kim Cowperthwaite and Jason Lanoie to join her for NRCM’s 2012 polar dip.

Photos courtesy of Beth Dimond

click image to enlarge

Beth Dimond and Janine Palmer pose with a friend before the Natural Resources Council of Maine’s 2011 polar dip.

CAMP SUNSHINE MAINE POLAR DIP

WHEN: Noon Saturday ; registration at 10:30 a.m.

WHERE: East End Beach (off Eastern Promenade), Portland

HOW MUCH: No admission fee, but $100 in donations earns you an "I DID IT" T-shirt

INFO: crowdrise.com/MainePolarDip

Those people are crazy.

How often have you heard those words -- or said them yourself -- whenever there's one of those polar plunge or polar dip fundraisers?

Every year in Maine, we see pictures in the newspaper and on TV of throngs of folks running into 36-degree ocean water to raise money for medical research, conservation efforts, a retreat for sick children and more.

Yes. It's for a good cause, we all agree. But still, those people are crazy.

Or are they?

People who are serial polar dippers -- "multiple plungers," if you will -- say braving near-freezing ocean water in Maine gives you a rush and a sense of accomplishment, or even victory, that is hard to beat.

Even for people who plunge in winter just for fun and not for charity (wow, those people really are crazy) say their actions bring them closer to nature as well as keep them more in tune with, and comfortable in, their surroundings.

"Darn it, we live in Maine, let's brave the elements at all costs," said Erin Brennan of Portland, a TD Bank vice president who does a monthly winter swim in Falmouth with a group of about six friends. "There's a certain feeling of success to being the ones out there.

"I'll run in a blizzard so I can say 'Ha, it didn't stop me.' Plus, when we swim (at 6 a.m.), we see a different sort of beauty every time."

On Saturday, one of Maine's polar plunge charity events will take place. The Maine Polar Dip will benefit Camp Sunshine, a retreat on Sebago Lake for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.

Organizers expect about 150 people will show up and take the plunge while raising money through sponsorships. The hope is to raise $30,000.

It may be a good time to see a polar plunge in person, or maybe even try it for the first time to see if you're crazy too.

And if crazy really feels good.

"You're doing something a lot of people never will. When people say, 'Oh, I've never done that,' I can say I've done it four times," said Beth Dimond, public affairs coordinator for the Natural Resources Council of Maine in Augusta. "It's definitely a sense of accomplishment, and it feels good to do something that's for a good cause and a little crazy."

Speaking of crazy, at the NRCM's Polar Dip and Dash at East End Beach this past New Year's Eve, Dimond convinced her fiance and a group of friends to jump in the ocean dressed as a wedding party.

Dimond and her fiancee are getting married in May, so this was an opportunity to take the plunge before taking the plunge. Get it?

"Usually, I go in at least up to my neck, but with that dress on, I only went to about my waist," said Dimond -- who, it must be pointed out, was not wearing her actual wedding dress, but a reasonable facsimile.

Dimond has done four polar plunges, and says the anticipation is the worst part. Thinking about it. Once you go in and come out, it's not as bad as you thought it would be.

Except maybe for the feet.

"It's not really a shock to your system, because most of the time you're in and out pretty fast, so the coldest part is once you come out," said Dimond. "If you can keep your feet warm, you're OK. The feet can feel like they've got pins and needles in them."

Jonathan Milne of Sidney has done several polar plunges, including for the NRCM, and says the best way to keep plunging every year is to have a short memory.

"I think the key to the mental preparation is to forget you've done it before. It's better to not think about it too much," said Milne, Atlantic region program manager for LightHawk, an organization that coordinates volunteer pilots' roles in various conservation efforts. "It's just a matter of not hesitating."

Not hesitating, if you think about it, is often the crucial element in grabbing the best things life has to offer -- like the last doughnut in the box, or the last chance of the evening to ask that girl you're sweet on to dance.

So maybe those polar plungers aren't as crazy as they seem. 

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

rrouthier@pressherald.com

 

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