The Penguin Plunge

There are very few opportunities for us undergraduate common folk to demonstrate our courage. But each year, such an occasion presents itself in the form of the Burlington Penguin Plunge.

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     The event – which raises money and awareness for Special Olympics Vermont – requires participants to secure donations and, in return, they must pledge to take the frigid plunge into the icy February waters of Lake Champlain

            This year I took part in the 18th edition of the Burlington Plunge, which marked my second time participating in the event. The scale is massive in terms of participation and money raised – over 1,200 people made the jump this year, raising nearly $400,000. And the event itself is unlike any other I’ve experienced.

            The air temperature on Saturday was a balmy 16 degrees and the water temperature sat at about 36. This being my second plunge, at least I had an understanding of what I was up against. The first time I participated in the plunge, hitting the water was the most arresting and intense sensation I had ever experienced.

     The air in your lungs is taken from you violently and your muscle tissues refuse to respond to brain impulses. The instinctual notion of survival kicks in as you flounder and thrash your way back to dry land. This year I was determined to compose myself in a more respectable fashion.

Teams are given an order in which they will jump and this year our team was number 42. Before the jump takes place, teams that are “on-deck” line up in the staging tent -a massive heated abode that positions teams in a long queue. Each team waits anxiously – or rowdily in many cases – as slowly but surely, number after number is called. The scene is circus like as grown men in Borat style banana hammocks and bikinis try to pump themselves up enough to make the jump.

            When the glass doors fly open and your team is called, all of the hesitation leaves you and you become totally immersed in the moment. You have to run about 30 yards along a winding path lined with hundreds of spectators cheering loudly. The path ends with a downward slope that leads you toward the icy black water. It is incredibly interesting to see the ways in which people accept their frigid fate. Some people wade in cautiously, delaying the inevitable for just a bit longer. Some aggressively throw themselves headfirst into the water in an attempt to get it over with as fast as possible. But most people are somewhere in between-an awkward stumble followed by a flailing attempt to reach dry land. All that really matters is that you completely submerge yourself and most people do.   

            There are very few things that you can do during your time in Burlington that embody the unique culture of Vermont but the Penguin Plunge is one of those events and I implore everyone to try it at least once in their four years at UVM. To check out videos and pictures of the entire event you can visit vermontcynic.com