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Debbi Takes the Plunge

Debbi Gardiner McCullough, in blue beach dress, chased by zombie (tentatively identified as a former Bulletin assignment editor) at Polar Plunge event. Photo by John West for WRAL News.

If you’re wondering where the spirit of NC State truly lies, try Lake Raleigh. That’s where 96 staff, family and students gathered on Saturday to brave the icy waters on Centennial Campus. The annual NC State Polar Plunge is organized by the university’s police department as a fundraiser for the North Carolina Special Olympics. I participated this year and thought it was fabulous.

The website encourages participants to wear a costume and form a team—a wonderful idea, I thought. Part of the experience is the camaraderie. I invited several staunch friends who were sweet and supportive but declined, saying the plunge sounded way too cold. My husband refused, saying he’d be “in a foul mood for weeks.”

But plunging into the lake solo was no problem. When it was time to line up at the lake waters at 2 p.m., Kim Womble, organizer and emergency communications supervisor, had me stand in front of the police dressed as zombies. In my beach dress, Mardi Gras beads and fairy wings I was set. Womble, disguised as Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, told me to pretend the zombies were chasing me. I couldn’t have planned this any better.

Debbi with zombies

Debbi Gardiner McCullough says there’s no hard feelings after surviving the zombie attack and the Polar Plunge.

Feeling the Spirit

Fun aside, you’d think this experience would be hideous. Previous Polar Plunge events landed on sunny winter days in the 50s. This year’s was in the 30s and rainy, causing even spectators to shiver. But once retired Lt. Ric Parmley concluded the national anthem, with his rich and deep voice, a terrific spirit came over the crowd. Everyone was whooping, hollering (and bouncing, like me, to stay warm.)

A highway patrol lieutenant blew a horn and the plunge began. First a football coach and his staff from University Recreation plunged. Then the Timberwolves basketball team, students, staff from employee relations, human resources, the police department and parents with older children dressed as Vikings. Ten minutes later, it was my turn. The zombies started snarling, so I ran for it.

How cold is that lake?

Guy making Wolfpack sign after plunge.

Some handled the cold better than others. Wolfpack pride seemed to make a difference.

Really, it’s not that bad. By the time you’ve waited around in your costume you’re acclimated. Let’s also say something for the spirit and love for NC State present that day. Yes, the goal of the Polar Plunge is giving to the North Carolina Special Olympics. This year the plunge raised $13,000 and the companion 5k race generated $15,000.

Everyone I spoke with agreed their motivator was charity but also their love for this university. As I ran into the water, getting soaked up to my neck, I also enjoyed feeling brave. A polar plunge is not the adventure from my earlier travels—backpacking and working throughout Asia, or cycling through California. But it’s exhilarating—a nice, short-lived adventure and definitely memorable.

Many plunge into Lake Raleigh annually. One dad says he and his son have done this five times.  After I warmed up and saw the TV coverage at home, I knew I’d be back too. The NC State Polar Plunge uplifted and reminded me of the importance of having ongoing adventures and my love for NC State.

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