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Thursday, March 5, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 5.0° F  Fair
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Chilling at the Polar Plunge
An ice-side seat at the Special Olympics fund-raiser
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Credit:David Medaris

So that's what the Madison Polar Plunge looks like. After taking the plunge in three of the event's first four years and passing it up since then, I returned to Olin-Turville Park on Saturday to watch the ninth annual Special Olympics Wisconsin fund-raiser.

Looking on as yet another group of plungers launched themselves into Lake Monona's frigid waters, I noticed that I was tensing up - cringing at each and every splash with an involuntary full-body shiver.

And then I recognized what was going on. Something unexpected. A conditioned response brought on by the sights and sounds of an experience I last enjoyed years ago.

Looking at feet hitting the water and hearing the shrieks and squeals of the people to whom those feet belonged, I found myself back at my first plunge. It was a moment so cold and stunning that by the time I made my way out of the icy water and into a lukewarm hot tub, I could not remember it.

That's why I returned to participate in the second and fourth plunges. I wanted to remember what it was like.

Then the novelty wore off, or I lost my nerve, or both. Attending this year's event as a spectator, I found myself viewing the plunge from a perspective not afforded by full immersion.

I saw the charged-up, wacky esprit de corps shared by everyone who has paraded out onto the ice before hundreds of spectators and - underdressed in Speedos and bikinis or overdressed in elaborate costumes - thrown themselves into frigid water, scrambled to shore and dashed for the hot tubs, gasping and exclaiming all the way.

In so doing, Madison plungers have generated more than $1 million in pledge dollars for Special Olympics Wisconsin over the past eight years. A sum of sufficient heat to ease the chill of the experience - and its memory.

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