At 7 a.m. Saturday, Lt. William Davis with the N.C. State University Police Department pulled on a dry suit and waded into the frozen waters of Lake Raleigh, armed with an iron crowbar.
Davis started breaking the thin sheet of ice covering the lake’s surface as soon as he approached its edge.
“The lake was completely iced over,” Davis said. “I started chipping away so we could get a way in the water.”
That’s right. Despite single-digit temperatures along with snow, sleet and freezing rain in recent days across the Triangle, Davis created a wide half circle in the icy waters for the police department’s 10th annual Polar Plunge.
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By about noon, more than 70 people who had registered to participate in the event stood in line waiting to wade into the gray water ringed by desolate trees and craggy ground dotted with snow and ice.
“But this makes it a polar plunge,” Davis said. Saturday’s high temperatures were in the low 40s.
This year, after hosting the icy plunge alone for the past nine years, the department partnered with the university’s Office of Parents & Families to host the event.
The parents, students and police were immersing themselves in the subfreezing university lake for a good cause. The event raises money for Special Olympics North Carolina, which has nearly 40,000 special-needs participants each year.
“Last summer we handed out medals to young and old,” Davis said. “When you see them and the happiness they have over achieving a goal and being recognized, that’s huge from a society that doesn’t provide those opportunities.”
Setting sights higher
Davis said that in addition to an entry fee, the polar plungers are encouraged to go out and raise more money and awareness for the Special Olympics.
Last year’s event at N.C. State raised about $8,000. Organizers hope to bring in a little more than $14,000 this year.
The Apex Police Department also held a Polar Plunge on Saturday to raise money for the Special Olympics.
At Lake Raleigh, organizers had set up registration tables under white canopies at the water’s edge. A sound system played 1970s pop music, and volunteers who had already taken the plunge warmed themselves with bowls of chili.
The water was shallow the first few feet, but the volunteers ventured about 10 feet to reach waist-level depths. They got out fast when the cold water hit them full force, but a few dunked themselves.
“Brave souls,” Davis quipped.
After drying out, N.C. State Police Chief Jack Moorman stood underneath a canopy, eating a bowl of chili and still wearing the black T-shirt, black cargo trousers and black military-style boots he wore into the water.
Pondering the plunge
Moorman, who has participated in the event for the past four years, said the worst part is standing in line waiting to enter the water because that allows time for the polar plungers to think about how bad it’s going to be.
Most of the participants stayed in the water about five seconds – long enough to get wet – and then rushed out. But the police chief said it wasn’t so bad.
“Is this something I enjoy? Certainly not,” he said. “But by doing this, it helps special-needs children from all over the state participate in the Special Olympics at no cost. It really gives you a good feeling.”