Signing Death Waivers for Charity


Photo by Maria Mclauglin

I don’t particularly like arriving at large events alone – it makes me feel awkward to see everyone arriving in boisterous, high-fiving groups and have to slink in like some divergent misanthrope.

This awkwardness was exacerbated while arriving at the Hudson Polar Plunge Saturday because of my costume, which was thrown together at the last minute upon learning the event involved a costume contest: baggy salmon slacks, a woman’s purple button-down, a gold sequined vest, a shamrock-green corduroy sports jacket, metallic gold sneakers and a glitter-encrusted top hat stuffed over a violet bob wig. It was quite the statement.

There were perhaps 50 people at Oakdale Lake when I arrived for the Hudson Polar Plunge, a charity event wherein altruistic residents and/or masochists throw themselves into a frigid lake to raise money for the Hudson Youth Department and the Hudson Fire Department Water Rescue & Dive Team. Most were gathered around a large hole in the frozen lake, which the Hudson Fire Department had been diligently widening since Thursday with chainsaws.

Hudson-polar-plungePeople like giving to charity, and two teens raising additional funds by selling coffees and hot chocolates for a suggested donation of $1 were raking in the singles. People like giving to charity so much, in fact, that when one of the teens tried to stir a hot chocolate with a plastic spoon and the spoon melted into the drink, the woman still gave him a dollar for it. I’m pretty sure she drank the thing too.

I was directed to the office where participants registered and signed waivers.

Not being one to sign things without giving them a quick look-through, I read a couple of the waiver’s paragraphs, one of which said the following:

“I fully understand that the Hudson Polar Plunge involves risks of serious bodily injury, permanent injury, paralysis and death…”

“Hell yeah!” I thought while enthusiastically scribbling my signature. There was a lot more on the waiver, but they had me at “paralysis.”

The coveted prizes, handed out for biggest fundraiser, biggest fundraising team, best costume, and best group costume, were trophies consisting of small blue toilet plungers. The Hudson Police Department won for biggest group fundraiser last year, and Chief Ed Moore quipped to me the prize had come in handy in a department emergency.

I had been so preoccupied in throwing together the most flamboyant costume possible I completely forgot to bring a change of clothing, much less a towel. Thankfully, my friend Teresa was on her way, and was able to supply one, but I was still out of luck as far as clothes went.

“You forgot to bring a change of clothes??” My girlfriend was perplexed, but really shouldn’t be at this point in our relationship.

The crowd had swelled to several hundred people at noon approached, and Oakdale had the feel of a mid-winter festival as a good chunk of Hudson milled about its shores, a band playing and a gaggle of photographers snapping pics of the costumed participants.

The costume contest was next, Alderman and man-about-town Rich Volo announced through his microphone. I shuffled up the exterior staircase of the clubhouse with the rest of the participants to display myself to the throngs, who would be judging us via the “applause-o-meter.”

We all stated our costumes through the microphone (“The MAD HATTER,” I announced with attempted aplomb), most of which were far more appropriate for diving into a half-frozen pond than mine.


Pre-plunge – Photo by Jody Brookes

Standing to my left were a quintet of plungers wearing 70s-patterened mumus.

“For anyone who’s unaware of the show ‘Three’s Company’ (this included me), this is the Roper Sisters,” Volo explained to the crowd. Mrs. Roper was a landlady whose husband had a low sex drive. Or something. I don’t watch a lot of TV.

Though I did my best to look applause-worthy when my name came up, I received only mild clapping, and the Roper sisters were awarded the blue plunger.

Now was the time for the actual plunge. I enjoy extreme things, like winter bushwacking and getting trapped in tunnels below abandoned psych hospitals, so this was the part of the event I was looking forward to.

The spectators were told to clear a broad runway stretching down the beach to the lake, and the groups gathered at the top of the beach for the plunge.

I was in the fourth heat with another divergent misanthrope without a team, but when we were announced, she was nowhere to be found. So I was going in solo.

When Volo yelled GO! through the microphone, I carefully placed my hat to the side, crouched, then sprang forward, sprinting down the beach until my feet hit the water and throwing myself into the lake head-first.

“Your hair fell off,” one of the firefighters mentioned as I resurfaced to decent applause. I grabbed the purple mop and sloshed out of the gelid lake.

I don’t know what I was expecting. The lake was 34 degrees, according to Volo, and my car thermometer read 36 degrees when I arrived at the lake. But the shock must’ve given me a shot of adrenaline, because I did not feel cold. I stood around dripping on the beach for a half hour after my plunge and actually felt rather warm.

Which is also my way of saying you should participate next year. The Hudson Polar Plunge raised more than $13,600 for the Youth Department and HFD Dive Team. Next year, we ought to raise even more.


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