I think this may be the first truly crazy thing I have ever decided to do. I am participating in the Polar Plunge.
Let me explain.
Over the past few years, my love of the outdoors and outdoor activities had led me to some interesting things. I’ve really been drawn to fitness programs like MovNat, Exuberant Animal, and Uncaged Man. Imagine if Crossfit and Parkour had a baby, raised it for a few years, introduced it to cool people like Tai Chi, Yoga, and Bear Grylls and then left it to fend for itself in the woods for a while, then you would sort of get a sense of what those three fitness programs represent. Just watch this video and see what I mean:
I have tried some pretty wild things while participating in a lot of these programs. They all encourage practical movements in nature, including crawling, climbing, running, jumping, lifting, rolling, balancing, grappling, fighting, and even swimming. So I have ran trails barefoot, climbed trees, vines, and boulders, crawled through small spaces, slogged through marshy grass, lifted logs and stones, and swam in rivers. I can credit each of these movements for rekindling my love of nature, especially wild waters and forests. These programs have also changed how I see “fitness”, viewing it more as being physically able to perform practical movements rather than just lift weights or run on a treadmill.
Along the way, while studying and training some elements of these programs, I’ve stumbled into a lot of other great resources:
- Born to Run by Chris McDougall, a book that completely changed how I run (barefoot)
- Blue Mind by Wallace J. Nichols, a book about how water literally changes our lives
- Deep by James Nestor, a book that taught me about the mammalian diving reflex
- rewilding, a return to wilderness lifestyle that seeks value in the hunter-gatherer way of life
- Mark Sisson, maybe one of the most practical primal movement gurus
- total-immersion swimming, a technique that causes less resistance while swimming and allows you to just glide along the water
- foraging, finding edible plants and mushrooms right in my neighborhood
But maybe the most bizarre and incredible thing I have found so far is The Iceman.
Wim Hof is a Dutchman who is nicknamed The Iceman because of his seemingly superhuman way of resisting the cold. This guy is insanely capable of withstanding temperatures that would send most of us indoors just thinking about them. He has broken several world records, one for spending 1 hour 52 minutes and 42 seconds submerged in ice water. He climbed 22,000 ft. on Mount Everest wearing only shorts and shoes, reached the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in just his shorts in two days, completed a full marathon in Finland above the Arctic Circle (again wearing nothing but shorts) and finished in 5 hours and 25 minutes, and has swam under ice on more than one occasion.
I was both fascinated and a little terrified when I discovered this. How is it possible to handle such extreme temperatures without getting hypothermia or severe frostbite? Through research I learned that Wim has a method: a combination of a unique breathing exercise (similar to a Tibetan method called Tummo or Inner Fire) and gradual cold exposure (cold showers, ice baths, time outside in cold temps, etc.). This led to learning that Wim is not alone in his ability to withstand cold. While almost no one has performed the daredevil feats he has accomplished, a great many have learned to adapt and adjust to cold temperatures. Cold tolerance is a thing, and you can train for it.
So, since about October I have been training: cold showers, time outside in the morning without my shirt and shoes, and immersions in cold water. While I don’t plan on hiking Mount Everest without a shirt or soaking in ice water for over an hour, I would appreciate the chance to learn to adapt to my environment no matter what the temperature. Then last month an idea hit me:
What if I could put my training to use somehow?
I knew that the Columbus Zoo did a Polar Bear Plunge every year, so I Googled the date. Not possible. Another Google search found a Polar Plunge right up the road at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston. In order to participate, I needed to raise at least $50 to support the Special Olympics. This is special because my daughter is special needs and will be competing in the Special Olympics this year.
So… I’m training. I plan to blog about my progress, share the experience with my faithful readers, and hopefully not freeze to death.
Wish me luck.