Pirates dive into 23rd annual Polar Bear Plunge
The Daily Reflector
Friday, January 18, 2019
At a time of year when most folks are buttoning themselves into heavy coats and tying scarves around their necks, students at East Carolina University were pulling on swim trunks or bikinis and bracing themselves for a shriek-inducing leap into icy waters.
ECU hosted its 23rd annual Polar Bear Plunge on Thursday night — a sort of double-dog dare issued to students, faculty and staff to see who was tough enough to defy winter and go for a swim in the Student Recreation Center’s outdoor pool.
Besides the enticement of a gasps, goosebumps and chattering teeth, ECU lured participants to the event with the promise of prizes.
The first 800 jumpers received a free event T-shirt and a certificate. Jumpers also were able to sign a large Polar Bear Plunge banner and be entered into drawings for prizes, including a 3-foot-tall stuffed polar bear donated by Coca-Cola.
The chilly tradition began in 1997, as part of the the grand opening of the Student Recreation Center. That year, 35 participants took the plunge.
Since then, students have grown bolder. In 2018, nearly 700 plungers participated in the event. The record for total jumpers was set in 2013, with 1,094 hitting the water.
“I’ve been coordinating the event since 2008,” said Jon Wall, assistant director of sports and youth programs and Polar Bear Plunge coordinator. “It never gets old to see the look on students’ faces. First, it’s the pain of the cold water and then it’s the exhilaration to say you’ve done it.
“It’s a great event,” Wall said. “it’s pretty simple but the students love it because of the fact they are participating in an ECU tradition.”
Director of disability support services Stephen Gray — who sported a polar bear character hat — might just be the king of the plunge.
“I’ve jumped every time,” he said. “It’s a tradition and students talk about it all the time.”
Alex Haulihan, 23, a sports studies major from Long Island, New York, noted Greenville’s temperatures are milder than those of his home state.
“It’s a lot better here and you don’t get too much snow down here,” he said. “We normally do a polar plunge there on New Year’s Eve.”
Jessica Yost, 19, a sophomore nursing student from Colorado Springs, Colorado, said she was eager to have fun and celebrate the tradition.
“It’s a good bonding thing with everybody,” she said. “especially being out of state seeing my friends and being pulled together.”
After the event, participants were able to partake in refreshments and entertainment, and attend the ECU Student Involvement Fair, which showcased many of ECU’s 475-plus student organizations.