8 things Jimmy Fallon should know before doing the Polar Plunge

It’s official: Jimmy Fallon has accepted Mayor Emanuel's challenge to do the Chicago Polar Plunge! This annual event, which this year has raised over $700,000 to benefit Special Olympics, is now in its 14th year and has become a Chicago institution. I have been a fan of Fallon’s for a long time, and while I’m thrilled that he’s bringing his star power to North Avenue Beach this Sunday, I think he at least deserves to know what he’s getting into. This is not by any means to discourage him, but rather, to prepare him. After all, this is Chicago: we don’t sugar coat.

1.You really don’t understand how cold it’s going to be. No, seriously. You really don’t. After I plunged in 2008, I was so cold—so unbelievably, incomprehensibly cold—that I had a full-blown panic attack. And I’m not being dramatic in a teenaged girl vocal fry “OhmyGod you guyssss, I’m gonna, like diiiiiiiie” kind of way. It was more a feeling that actual death was imminent, and that the last thing I would ever do before leaving this earth was huddle, shivering violently, on the tiles of a North Avenue Beach bathroom stall in my Aqua Socks and a soaking towel, surrounded by close friends who were all laughing at me.

2. If you try to brag or cry about it afterwards, no one will care, because this is Chicago and we don’t really “do” cold-weather sympathy. After the plunge, I tried to explain to my mom what it was like: the fear, the panic, the sheer physical shock to the system. “Well, what did you expect?” She asked, not bothering to look away from the newest episode of Check, Please. “You jumped into Lake Michigan in March, ya goof.”

3. Abandon all sense of shame. In 2008 I was single and looking. When I arrived at North Avenue Beach that morning, I was pleased to discover that there are a lot of young, good-looking men who participate in the Polar Plunge. I figured I would splash around in the water for a few seconds, then spend the rest of the day at the warm-up party, après ski style, sipping hot cocoas and trading war stories with a team of strapping lads from the fire department. As soon as I hit the water, though, all my feminine charms were replaced by the raw, animalistic desire for sheer survival. I thrashed around in the frigid tide like a wild she-beast, unaware that the inhuman grunts and shrieks filling the air were actually coming from my own mouth. By the time I clawed my way out of the water, my mascara had frozen in black streaks all over my face and my skin had turned the color of deli meat.

4. You’re going to find out what you’re really made of.  I’ve always thought of myself as a “grace under pressure” sort of person. As I ran into the water that morning, I thought I’d be like this:

Instead, I was like this:


5. Take a couple nips of something strong before you hit the water. If you’re a selfish coward like me, and raising money for a wonderful cause is not enough incentive to get your body to agree to the plunge, use that other tried-and-true enabler of irrational behavior: alcohol. Whether it’s eating a whole White Castle crave case, Getting your philtrum pierced, or hurling your body into Lake Michigan when it’s snowing and fifteen degrees out, a shot or two of Jameson can always pick up where courage, fortitude, and common sense left off.

6. After the Plunge, go straight to the nearest bar with a working fireplace. There, order a hot toddy and drink it immediately, while sitting as close as possible to the flames. Then, order another one. Your friends will be observing you closely, and once they see that you’ve recovered from your little adventure, they will begin making fun of what a wimp you are. Drink the third and fourth whiskey to help you endure their taunts.

7. Bring proper clothing. Many teams dress up in costume, but I would recommend that if you have to dress up, do so in an arctic deep sea-diving wetsuit. If you don’t own one of those, at least bring a pair of aqua socks. They will offer your feet a small measure of protection against the dagger-like icicles you’ll be crunching over on your march toward doom. Bring wool socks and a giant pair of Hanes sweatpants for the after party. This is not the time to worry about your personal appearance (see # 3).

8. Realize that despite all of this, it’s still going to be worth it. The Special Olympics were born right here in Chicago: the first Special Olympic games were held at Soldier Field in 1968. Today, the organization provides sports training and athletic competition to over 5,000 athletes in 22 different sports. It’s a unique and vital charity run by a wonderful group of people, and by engaging in this insane ritual, you are helping raise money so they can continue to do their good work for many decades to come. Click here if you'd like to donate!

I would like to conclude with some sort of sweet metaphor about warming hearts and freezing bodies, but this is Chicago and we also don’t “do” sentimentality. So, Jimmy, I’ll just say that on behalf of all of Chicago, we're so excited you've accepted Rahm's challenge that we might even find it in our hearts to forgive you for making Fever Pitch. Good luck on Sunday!

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    Jessie Ann

    Jessie Ann is a writer and high school English teacher from the Northwest Side of Chicago whose first novel, The Carnival at Bray, is forthcoming from Elephant Rock Books in fall 2014. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and holds an MFA in Fiction Writing from Columbia College. Her fiction and essays have appeared in Salon, xoJane.com, The Madison Review, The Chicago Reader, McSweeney's, Great Lakes Cultural Review, Hypertext, Sixfold, Word Riot, Hair Trigger and other local publications. She lives with her husband in the Jefferson Park neighborhood.

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