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Go jump in a lake? A postcard from the frigid waters of Lake Ontario

A woman in her late 20s stands shoulder-high in a large body of water. She has her hands clasped together and wearing a bathing suit. Her skin is red from prolonged contact with freezing-cold water.
Noelle E. C. Evans
/
WXXI News
Jessica Meyers soaks in 39°F waters in Lake Ontario off of Durand Eastman Beach on a Sunday afternoon.

This year's winter in Rochester has been unusually warm. That’s making one wintery outdoor activity more approachable for some: cold water immersion.

The activity is still a topic of debate. Ongoing research points to some possible benefits, like sports recovery, reducing inflammation, and improving stress tolerance. According to a study published by the International Journal of Circumpolar Health, if done regularly it may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

However, there are risks if done unsafely: hypothermia, drowning, and 'cold shock syndrome.' The National Weather Service warns that water at or below 55°F can be dangerous.

"Cold water drains body heat up to four times faster than cold air," The National Weather Service states. "When your body hits cold water, 'cold shock' can cause dramatic changes in breathing, heart rate and blood pressure. The sudden gasp and rapid breathing alone creates a greater risk of drowning."

The day that WXXI’s Noelle Evans takes us into the frigid waters of Lake Ontario, she joins veteran cold plungers and about 30 people as they wade into the waters on the shore of Durand Eastman Beach.

For some, it’s become a weekly ritual that’s not for the faint of heart.

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TRANSCRIPT:

(chatter)

SHANE LINDEN: Hey, I'm Shane Linden, and we're here most Sundays through the winter.

EVANS: You organize this right?

LINDEN: Yeah.

EVANS: Why?

LINDEN: It was something that I was doing by myself. So, I just started inviting all my friends. Back in Wisconsin, I would do it. My brother has a pickaxe, so we'd use that through the ice and so under.

SARAT TIRUMALA: My name is Sarat Chandra Kant Tirumala. I think part of it is just, it’s just fun. It's really just fun. You only get it when you do it. I think I also have a connection with water. So, when I see large bodies of water I feel like being one with the whole. Sort of like, I came from there, so I'm going back in there. (laughs)

(whooping and splashing)

EVANS: Alright, I'm going to go for it. Oh my god.

MAN: (yelling) Ah! It’s so good! You got this! Do it!

TIRUMALA: You're fine.

EVANS: The panic’s kind of over.

TIRUMALA: Yeah, see?

LINDEN: The numbness will come but that will go away too.

TIRUMALA: Yeah.

EVANS: Can you describe what you're feeling?

LINDEN: My feet are completely numb. I feel, like, pain throughout most of my body right now. I think it's just about pushing through it and knowing that it's just temporary.

(teeth chattering)

(splashing back to shore)

KELSEY MEEHAN: — I was like, ‘these people are nuts.’ And then I'm like, ‘you know what? —

EVANS: Kelsey?

MEEHAN: Hey, do you do this all the time?

EVANS: No.

MEEHAN: First time?

EVANS: Yeah.

MEEHAN: Let’s go!

EVANS: What about you?

MEEHAN: Same. Yeah, I was screaming for quite a while. But it felt good. It felt like I was exorcising a demon (laughs). My name is Kelsey Meehan. I'm a Rochester native, first-time polar plunger.

(water lapping on shore)

JESSICA MEYERS: God, the state of mind you get.

EVANS: Tell me about it.

MEYERS: (laughs) I'm Jess Meyers, and this is probably my fourth plunge coming out with the group. It's really able to bring me to that point where I'm able to clear my mind and actually just be completely within my body and not have anything running through my head and all the thoughts that are intrusive. You're just existing because you have no other choice or you're going to have twice as much suffering. (laughs)

(waves on shore)

Noelle E. C. Evans is WXXI's Murrow Award-winning Education reporter/producer.