Editor's note: This story originally appeared on March 21, 2017.
One of the best compliments I’ve ever received came a couple of years ago, when my uncle Ron told my mom, “He’s fun.”
I try my best. My resume since I went into journalism includes doing a live sports talk radio show on a moving float during a homecoming parade; refereeing a pro wrestling title match inside a steel cage (with barbed wire and assorted weapons); taking an adult ballet class (no tights!); being thrown around by a female sensei demonstrating self-defense moves; and taking high-speed pace car laps around more NASCAR tracks than I can remember.
And those are just the ones I can tell you about without getting into trouble.
But jumping into icy waters in the middle of winter? Turning yourself into a human ice cube? Why?
Thanks to several years working on community journalism for newsday.com, I know the answer based on some of the people we’ve covered. Sometimes it’s to remind folks that turning 85 doesn’t resign you to a recliner and “Law & Order” marathons. Maybe you have been humbled by the courage that the Special Olympian you coach has shown you on a regular basis and are inspired by that. Perhaps you want to remind folks that -- its glitzy image notwithstanding -- there are plenty of hungry people in the Hamptons.
Long Island’s polar bear plunges do a lot to support charities and hearten souls. At a certain point, the question that faced me was, “Why not try that, just once?”
Last Saturday I added plunges to pro wrestling and pace cars on the 'ol bucket list at the Town of Oyster Bay Polar Bear Plunge at Tobay Beach, supporting Special Olympics New York. That event raised more than $65,000 for the cause.
I’ve been to plunges before as a reporter/spectator, and the best description I can offer is that they’re a little bit like the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona -- if you put said bovines at the beginning and end of the street.
Buoyed by false confidence that the elements are all in one’s mind, folks rush in thinking they’re going to splash around with friends and celebrate overcoming their fear. What generally happens is they run in around 10-15 feet, feel like they must’ve lost a bet or something and scamper back to shore in a running style not unlike Fred Flintstone starting his car with his feet. You could make an ice bucket challenge last longer if you asked someone to pour slowly enough.
My experience was a bit unique, spurred by one of my more prevalent traits -- indecision. I hit the water before the big group Saturday with a collection of VIPs (Very Important Plungers, I presume) and was one of the last ones to finally make it back to shore. Not because I’m tough. Just because when I got to waist deep I came to the conclusion that the benefit of Under Armour has its limits. I was freezing, alone and discouraged -- who knew this would make me feel like waiting for the Long Island Rail Road going west at 1 a.m. after yet again snoozing through Hicksville?
But I couldn’t settle for a half-plunge. So, after running most of the way back toward shore, I finally steeled myself into a backflop and full immersion. Thank goodness I did, for it allowed me to offer much more nuanced commentary to my colleague Anahita Pardiwalla, who chronicled my post-plunge thoughts for Facebook Live.
“It’s really, really cold… It’s really cold... It’s really cold.”
It’s amazing how much better I felt a few minutes later, between not chickening out and the wonders of a car heater.
And while I was convinced that this was a one-time act of lunacy, as I pulled out of Tobay Beach, the inexplicable came out of my mouth.
“Next time I’ll…”