Polar Bear Plunge 2011



One cannot set foot on East Carolina University’s campus without experiencing the school pride and community spirit that is at the very heart of the university. While the demands of rigorous academic activity define daily life, a student's experience is also highlighted by sharing in those distinctive traditions that are part of a life lived in the Pirate Nation.

One of these beloved and fun traditions is the Polar Bear Plunge. The Plunge gives students a chance to unwind and de-stress from the responsibilities they have with their academics and extracurricular activities. Pirates certainly work hard, but they enjoy time to have good, old-fashioned fun, as well.

The Polar Bear Plunge, which started in 1997 as part of the Grand Opening celebration for Campus Recreation and Wellness, is an annual event during which students brave the frigid January weather to jump into the freezing water of the outdoor swimming pool at the rec center. The first year, 35 people participated.

This year marked the 15th year of the Polar Bear Plunge, and the number of participants has soared each year. A record-breaking 958 jumpers participated this year, according to associate director for Campus Recreation and Wellness, David Gaskins. This year’s turnout shattered last year’s record of 702.

Gaskins said that when the Plunge first started, no one really knew how popular the tradition would become.


A team of students getting ready to take the plunge, showing some school pride.

“The Polar Bear Plunge has become a rite of passage for ECU students,” he said. “It gives them something fun to participate in together with groups, friends, residence halls, sororities, and fraternities. This tradition really builds camaraderie between people.”

During the Plunge, student organizations had booths set up in an adjacent court and representatives from the groups were available to talk to interested students. Food and free T-shirts helped warm the jumpers.

The T-shirts, Gaskins said, have become a tradition in themselves.

“We ask a graphic design student to design the T-shirt each year,” he said. “We want to keep our student designers involved because this is a meaningful project that offers real-world experience. Designing the shirt gives our students the chance to put their personal stamp on a project and to put what they are learning in their classes into practice.”

This year, junior graphic design student Elizabeth Curl produced the T-shirt design.

“This project is a good example of the hands-on-experience I have gotten in design while at ECU, “ said Curl. “I have learned so much from this working on client projects, like this one. I have realized that it is OK for a design to change. In fact, changing a design is good because it just causes me to learn even more than I would have originally.”

Not only did Curl design the T-shirt for this year’s plunge, but she also went and took photos of the event as well.

“This was my first Plunge,” she said. “I had a lot of fun.”


A jumper after his plunge, feeling the cold.

Not only is the Polar Bear Plunge a time-honored tradition for students, but whether it was their first time participating or their third, all of the jumpers agreed that the event is just good, old-fashioned fun.

“I try to get out and try as many new and bizarre things as I can. You only live once. If an opportunity presents itself, I want to be able to say, ‘Yeah, I did that,’” said junior James Todd. “This tradition is one that I have never failed to miss. It is something that comes in mid- to late January and is a nice stress reliever from class recently starting and is a reminder that I am still in college and having a great time.”

Not only did Todd participate in the plunge, but he also convinced his girlfriend, sophomore Ashley Wagoner, to participate as well.

“I asked her one day when she looked back on everything not to let this be something she regretted not trying,” said Todd.

Like Todd, junior Andrew Reynolds had also participated in the Plunge before.

“I took part in the Plunge last year,” said Reynolds. “It was so much fun that I wanted to show my friends what it was like.”

Freshman Omar Villagomez and Jacob Sigworth also said that the plunge was a fun time, and that the free T-shirt was a great draw.

“This is an unforgettable experience,” said Sigworth.

This year was junior Jenna Lazio’s first jump into the frigid pool.

“I thought I needed to participate in the Plunge at least once before I graduate,” she said. “I have been to watch before and everyone gets so pumped about being here together even though they are freezing afterwards.”

By Meagan Williford
University Marketing