10 steps to a perfect charity polar dip. | Community Spirit

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10 steps to a perfect charity polar dip.
10 steps to a perfect charity polar dip.

I hate fundraising. When I was a little girl, I begged my mother to let me stop trick or treating at Halloween because it felt too much like soliciting.  I dropped out of Girl Scouts because I didn’t want to sell cookies. I forced my parents to buy all of my Catholic school magazines and chocolate bars because I just couldn’t bring myself to proposition my friends and neighbors. At 8, it just felt intrusive, undignified…

Fortunately for me,  mandatory fundraising situations tend to dwindle once you graduate from college. As an adult, I am free to donate quietly to charities as I please, or be the happy recipient of the delicious Girl Scout Cookies, instead of the mortified salesperson.

Then one day last year, I decided I wanted to do a polar dip.

This activity generally involves dunking your fragile human body into a convenient ocean or frozen lake in the DEAD OF WINTER.  Which I suppose is possible to do on your own just for fun, but the solidarity (and let’s face it, peer pressure) of a big frenzied mob of crazy people wearing costumes and plunging in simultaneously is really the true essence of the experience.  And the cost of that  wild ride is in general some mild to moderate fund raising.


I Googled frantically to prepare myself for the physical and emotional trauma to come, but actually found very little. So, I decided that once the deed had finally been done (if I survived), as a public service, I would put together a simple step by step guide to the perfect charity polar dip:

1. Locate the polar dip that best fits your needs. This is Maine. We got water, we got cold, we got TONS OF POLAR DIPS. Right here in Portland, we’ve got the Natural Resources Council of Maine doing their New Year’s dip, and the Camp Sunshine dip, Freezin’ for a Reason. Lake or ocean, country or city, pick your pleasure!

2. Con some unassuming friends into taking the plunge with you- safety in numbers.  Most dips let you sign up as a team, and being overtaken by the urge to cut and run is much less likely when there are one or more team mates calling you out on your wussery.

3. Stir up a little friendly competition. Fundraising becomes a lot more palatable when you have a group of trash talking friends who are in it with you. This works especially well if your polar dip has a highly visible fundraising leader board, and if your friends have Twitter accounts where the rampant bragging and smack talk can take place publicly.

4. Make wild promises. One of my fundraising rivals actually promised his flock that he would wear a Speedo for the dip if they just coughed up the cash.  He raised over $1,300.  Need I say more?

5. Prepare your costume. Well, Mr. Speedo didn’t have much to put together, but in general, the insane frenzy of the polar dip can only be amplified by the wearing of all varieties of wacky attire from body paint to superhero costumes. My team went tasteful with polar bear ears and tutus, but the crazier the better. But beware! Full coverage costumes will water log and create a level of coldness beyond human comprehension (see #6).

6. Brace yourself. The Freezin’ for a Reason website made a joke about smearing your body in bear fat, but really, there’s nothing you can do. IT’S COLD. LIKE CRAZY COLD. That’s why there are guys in scuba suits with rescue gear (just look away). No mater how merciful the weather gods (we hit a balmy 32 degrees in February!), it’s gonna be shocking. You can’t emotionally prepare for how cold it’s gonna be. And then when you stagger out breathless and sopping, and the icy air hit your wet flesh, the alarming numbness starts to settle in...

7. Get a good team on the ground. The good news is that this all happens super fast. So fast in fact that a few hours and a few cocktails later (see #8), you will doubt at times that it actually happened.  This convenient amnesia can be best facilitated by a non-dipping buddy at the ready with blankets, towels, bathrobes, slippers, whisky... Ideally, they should envelope you with all things warm the second your angry and dripping body hits the shoreline. They are also quite handy for picture and video taking duties, which you will need in order to prove to your sponsors that their money was well spent (as well as for use as evidence for #9).

8. Ride the endorphin rush. We rode ours straight to the Front Room for mimosas and brunch before taking epic naps. You can wake up later and start cashing in on your bragging rights, but if you ever deserved to eat a giant pile of breakfast gnocchi and pass out on your couch for 5 hours, today is the day.

9. BRAG. You’ve just thrown yourself into the ocean in the dead of winter, and that is something worth chatting about. Whether you’re brazenly posting pictures on your Facebook, or just working it casually into conversation whenever you get the chance, you’ve done something crazy/awesome (or perhaps awesome/crazy) and you need to broadcast it. Repeatedly.

10. Get ready to do it again. After the cocktails, and endorphins, and the glow of the brag-a-thon have finally worn off, all you will be left with is some crazy memories, some unflattering photos, and an incredible sense of accomplishment. Polar dipping is not for the weak of constitution, and  now that you’ve proven that you have the cojones to do it and survive, you’ll probably want to do it again. And again. And again.

I may still have a strong distaste for the act of fundraising, but  polar dipping forced me to get over myself for a good cause and an unforgettable experience. It was a little scary, a little painful, and a hell of a good time. And yes, I’m already working on my costume for next year.


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