Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Reporter Blog: Polar Plunge

by Drew Schaar

"These people are crazy!"

That is the thought that was constantly in the back of my mind as I witnessed about 150 people gather at Stroud's Run State Park to take part in the annual Polar Plunge. The Polar Plunge is a nationwide program. The one in Athens was just one of many around the state of Ohio on Valentine's Day. Last year was the first year for it here. Jeff Madachy started the local event last year as a way to give back and make a legacy at OU. However, he told me a very compelling story about the deeper meaning to him.

Jeff Madachy is a member of Phi Kappa Theta fraternity at OU. His father used to be a cop. He has family members with intellectual disabilities. But, there's more. He and his brother, along with other members of his family, have been involved with Special Olympics for a long time.

Jeff says he has participated in some way since he was seven years old. He and his brother had plans to "plunge" together a few years back. Unfortunately Jeff's brother passed away. After that tragic day, Jeff was going to go to Lake Erie and participate in the Polar Plunge there with family and some friends. Scheduling conflicts prevented that, so he decided to start the OU/Athens Polar Plunge. It was a hit and this year raised $16,000. More than 150 people jumped in the cold and icy waters of Dow Lake.

I was struck by this story. None of that personal information was included on the press release I received about the event. I didn't really have a clue about it before hand. So, when I heard Jeff tell me the story on camera, I felt sort of shocked and unsure how to react. As a reporter, I will have to cover stories that involve many emotions. I have to remain unattached to the story as to be objective in my reporting. I don't think I could really cover a story if I were to become emotionally invested. It would taint the coverage of the story.

As the interview continued I didn't want to prod for personal details. The story had that happy, feel good quality to it. I never found out the details about the loss of Jeff's brother. I didn't want to invade. I had enough information to make the story hit home for a lot of people. It made the event seem really important and like it was doing a lot of good. Giving back and events for charity are always good, right?

Video of the plunge

The Plunge
The following day, I went to the lake to videotape the "plunge" and talk to a few participants. The parking lot was full. The beach was crowded. People were dressed up in all sorts of costumes. There was an inch of ice over much of the lake as people prepared for the plunge. I watched people register for the event and admired their costume choices. I saw everything from a penguin to an ice cube, turtles to sorority girls, cupids to redneck swimsuit. (of which the sign on the gentleman's back read "Red Neck Swim Soot")

I suppose it is worth noting that there was lots of cross dressing. However, bountiful clothing was not a popular choice. "Mankinis," diapers, speedos and thongs were aplenty. There were some interesting sights, but overall nothing was inappropriate. The event remained G-rated. The costumes were just for fun. They gathered a lot of attention and garnered a lot of laughs.

Once participants lined up the event moved rapidly. I had never attended a plunge before and wasn't 100% sure what to expect. I wanted to make sure I had the proper camera location so I could catch all of the action as well as snap a few closeups of some people. They counted down, then all at once leaped right into the water. Now when I say plunge, I really mean about 150 people all RAN into the water at the exact same time.

There was a lot of flailing of arms, screaming, splashing, and the like. Some participants went far out or dove in. They were the brave ones. I would say a majority waded out far enough into the water to get their legs wet and freezing cold. if there were a plague coming...everyone left the water, grabbed towels, dried off and hopped into cars. The plunge portion of the event was, from start to finish, less than 5 minutes long. That might be generous. I imagine if you are freezing cold in 30 degree weather on a cloudy day in Ohio after just having jumped into frigid water, you would want to get into some sort of warmth as fast as possible. Everyone did just that and vacated the lake within 10 minutes of the plunge.

Cylde Tippie talks about the event and his costume

The event was a success with more participants and money being raised this year. Everyone seemed to have a really good time, and it was certainly entertaining. I am very glad I was able to cover and witness such an event. One for the memory book, and an opportunity for me to cover a lighter, more comical feature-type story. I will definitely look forward to this event when it comes around next year! And who knows...I might even plunge!

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