24 Mar Helping Kids with Down Syndrome, One Plunge at a Time
The date was Saturday, January 30, 2010. Winter. The middle of winter. Chloe’s Cause members made a pact with each other to jump into the icy waters of the Chesapeake Bay to help raise money for the Special Olympics. The temperature that day was 27 deg F.
The team arrived at Sandy Point State Park at roughly 8:30 am. The sun was shining. Large white circus tents were posted along the beach which provided shelter from the cold; a place for refuge after the plunge. The team tailgated, working to psych’ themselves up for the big plunge at 1 pm.
At 9 am, things began to change. The first flurries appeared from dark clouds over the horizon. Within a short hour, the sky went from bright blue to dark. By 10 am, snow was falling on the team at an inch an hour!
The temperature continued to drop, but the team was not to be deterred. Over and over, they looked out to the icy water and snowy beach and said to each other, “Are you ready for this! Are you ready for this!” “This is going to be awesome!” “This will be the plunge to remember.”
At noon, the team stripped down to their pre-plunge gear – bathing suits, sweat shirts and Chloe’s Cause hats. It was time to take the last shot of Hot Cocoa before heading to the beach. We lined up for a photo as 5 inches of snow was already on the ground. Excitement, anticipation, emotion of helping a great cause, all drove us to do something that most of us would normally never do from behind an office desk.
We marched up to the beach as a team. Not in a formation, but in a group connected by a common cause. As individuals, none of us would likely have been there, but the spirit of being part of something big drove us toward the beach.
At the beach it was chaos. A party atmosphere of people, on any other day, considered half-mad for leaving their warm houses, and deciding to challenge themselves to an icy dip in the Chesapeake for a cause. The radio announcers, whose voice blared over the loud speaker, estimated the crowd at 10,000. The beach, a mixture of snow, sand, ice, felt like broken glass as we made our way to the water’s edge.
No one wanted to dip their toes in the water. You didn’t have to. You knew it would be cold. The police, dressed in frog gear, arms crossed, standing in waist high water, provided a protective barrier and a warning to everyone that what you are about to do is going to be cold and “insane”.
Think about it… we were about to jump in freezing water in the middle of winter. We had already gotten our donations from friends, family members, businesses ourselves. We raised over $8,000 for the Special Olympics. The money was already in the bank. At this point, we really didn’t need to jump in the water. We could have just walked back to the warm car, put back on our dry clothes, and left… but we would have left not fulfilling our promise. No one would have known the difference, except for ourselves. But no one wanted to renege on our promise, our commitment to Chloe and kids and families with Down Syndrome that we supported. One way or another, we were all getting wet today regardless of the temperature.
The Chloe’s Cause team stood proudly at the water’s edge waiting on the signal to let the plungers know that it was time to run into the water. The cold made it feel as though time was frozen, then finally, the countdown began. 10, 9, 8, … 1… Boom!
A deafening cannon belched its insides, and for what felt like an eternity of silence was interrupted by the wild screams of a massive wave of people flooding into the bay and gasping for breath as the cold water tightens your skin around their lungs. You hear it often, but it literally takes your breath away. But once you’re in, you’re in, so you might as well make the best of it. We submerged ourselves under water. Once stand back up, you break the surface of the water, and see the steam rising from your head, as your body struggles to pump blood to your brain to keep it warm. Suddenly you realize that the water is actually warmer than the air. You almost long to go back under the water as it’s a “balmy 32, compared with the now 25 deg F that the air has become.
But you can’t. Hypothermia is defined by the Mayo Clinic as “a medical condition when your body loses heat faster than it can produce… leading to complete failure of your heart and respiratory system and to death.” It was time to think about an exit strategy.
With the wind whipping the snow down the bay, you decide that you are now a slushy machine for Mother Nature, and if you ever want to feel again, you better start moving to the beach. But you can’t.
Some people run in ankle deep then jump out. Others run in just enough to fully drop under water and then jump out. The Chloe’s Cause team, we’re the crazy ones. We all put $20 into a pot to see who could last the longest. $200 awaiting the winner. Not only did you need to stay in the water, but to qualify for the bet, you had to submerge completely under water. What were we thinking? It doesn’t matter, it was one of the most memorable days of our lives and many kids with Down Syndrome were helped by us having a little fun.