The Polar Plunge at Brrrmidji Polar Daze, that is. My little brother, Abe, has taken part in the plunge for the past few years, and I always ask him: “What on Earth is wrong with you?”
The water is, obviously, just above freezing. When you dive in, you compulsively gasp because of the cold and immediately need to work your way toward a ladder to get out, even though your brain is a bit in shock. Thankfully, if you have trouble in the process of climbing out of the plunge area, Dan Carlson and Greg Moen of The Dive Depot in Bemidji are there to help you out. I asked Greg recently what he does when people plunge, and what happens to your body in water that cold.
Greg: I think the jumpers would be fine if we weren’t there, but we try to lead them to the ladder as quickly as possible so they don’t cool off too much. We’re also there in the event they slip under the water and, God forbid, go under the ice. I’m pretty sure event insurers require safety divers to be there for those reasons. What happens physiologically to the divers is actually quite interesting: When the body hits the water, the cold initiates the gasp reflex which is involuntary and can’t be controlled. If the person’s face is in the water or submerged, it causes them to take water into their lungs.
We haven’t seen that happen at the plunge but we do see the faces scrunch up and the mouths wide open sucking in air. It’s surprisingly quiet right after they hit the water because the reflex causes an inward gasp preventing screaming. However every single jumper has some sort of vocalization after the gasp! Those are the most interesting things for us as safety divers to hear. One more thing I might add, is if it’s really cold, encourage the jumpers to wear some sort of shoes as wet feet can freeze to the ice as they walk from and to the warming houses.
Dan and I are glad to be there as safety divers from the Dive Depot as it’s for a wonderful community cause and we get front row seats for the action!
And we’re all glad you’re there, Greg. Especially my Ma, who gasps herself every time Abe decides to again participate in this event.
Greg later sent this link about the mammalian diving reflex, check it out here. Pretty useful, actually. And here’s a video to show the divers (and a plunger) in action: