Why the Polar Bear Plunge Is NOT On My Schedule Today

Jeanne Sager

polar bear plungeI love the people who are stripping down for polar bear plunge events across the United States this week. Love them, but think they're absolutely batshit. Hey, I say that with LOVE.

These nuts big-hearted goofs strip down to almost nothing, then they run into freezing cold water, all the while trying to raise both money and awareness for their favorite charity. It takes someone with some chutzpah to sign up. But let's be real here. While you're freezing your digits off to raise money for a very good cause (Special Olympics, can I get a heck yeah?), there's one section of the FAQ on the major Polar Bear Plunge site that I find woefully lacking.

Nobody asks if this is safe.

Yeah, I went there. I'm sorry. But I take part yearly in a major fundraising effort of my own -- shaving my head to fight childhood cancer with St. Baldrick's -- and they go to the other extreme. We "shavees" aren't allowed to have our hair cut by anyone but a licensed professional, and we can't go for a to the scalp shave to protect our bald pates. And let's face it, people shave their heads every day. If anything, I always wondered if St. Baldrick's wasn't a bit too worried on my behalf.

Now jump to the frigid waters of the Chesapeake Bay or any of the other cold climate waterways being filled with half naked bodies today. There's a reason most folks avoid this kind of thing. It's not comfy. It's not pleasant. And it's kind of scary. 

Take these statistics:

Cold water removes heat from the body 25 times faster than cold air. About 50% of that heat loss occurs through the head. Physical activity such as swimming, or other struggling in the water increases heat loss. Survival time can be reduced to minutes. Strong swimmers have died before swimming 100 yards in cold water. In water under 40 degrees F, victims have died before swimming 100 feet.

Is this more evidence of the winter cold snap turning Americans into idiots? I'll give the Polar Bear Plunge officials credit; they have banned alcohol to help protect the plungers. They require anyone under 18 to have a waiver signed by a parent or guardian. And they advise anyone with a heart condition to stay OUT of the water.

You all have fun this weekend. I'll respect you for putting yourselves out there. But I'm going to politely decline the risk in favor of having my head shaved in a nice, warm firehouse. If someone shows up to ask me for money for the Special Olympics, I'll even sign a check in my nice warm house.

Are you doing the Polar Bear Plunge?


Image via colderlove/Flickr

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