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Staying Home with Stodghill: Keeping the romance alive while freezing to death at the Polar Bear Plunge

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Great ‘date night’ adventure

Brave polar plungers Ruth and Jason Stodghill were excited and exhilarated as as they raced toward the far end of the plunge pool during the great Polar Plunge at Trinidad Lake on Saturday, Feb. 27.

What does ‘date night’ look like for you in the era of COVID-19?

For my husband and me, when it comes to planning a romantic rendezvous, the struggle has been real.

It’s hard to snuggle at the movies and chomp on popcorn and hold butter-covered hands while watching the latest rom-com when all the theaters are closed.

It’s hard to share a romantic candlelight dinner at a posh eatery when all the restaurants are closed to indoor dining, so we’re reduced to wearing parkas and thermal underwear while we shiver and munch on cold linguine in an outdoor dining tent mid-winter.

It’s even been hard to find the motivation to get all dolled up in my favorite little black dress and head out for a night on the town when the only place open is Wal-Mart.

And it’s been nearly impossible to schedule any kind of couple time when my husband and I, due to our jobs in public service, have been playing rotating games of “Now That’s What I Call Quarantine.”

Because even an at-home date isn’t very romantic when you have to try to kiss through a mask.

So just like so many things this past year, date nights for myself and my husband have been, well, you guessed it — canceled.

However, that all changed this past week.

You see, my good friends at The Chronicle-News decided that the 2021 Polar Bear Plunge, organized by the Trinidad Police Department as a fundraiser to support the Special Olympics of Colorado, sounded like an endeavor that matches my unique skill sets: undertaking wild physical adventures and then writing about them for you, my dear readers.

So one fine afternoon last week, BOOM! I found myself signed up for the plunge with the newspaper as my sponsor!

A few days after signing up, I spent a good half hour whining to my husband about our recent lack of quality time spent together. As I finished my tirade, I saw a determined gleam in his eyes.

He asked, “When is your polar bear plunge — Saturday?” When I replied in the affirmative, he said, “Then I’ll sign up, too. You’ve got yourself a date.”

Any man who is willing to dive into near-freezing waters in the middle of winter in order to spend time with his wife — well, that’s a hero.

So on Saturday, Feb. 27, my nervous Prince Charming and I donned our swimming gear and headed to the icy waters of Trinidad Lake.

When we arrived at the boat dock, we saw what we were in for: a path had been cut into the lake’s thick sheet of ice, forming a pool that extended a good 25 feet from the shoreline. Our task would be to plunge into these frigid waters, high-five the fire department’s emergency water rescue team donned in dry suits at the far end of the pool, and hightail our way back to shore before we froze to death.

As we waited our turn, my gallant knight in shining armor and I pledged that, to prove our true bravado, we would dunk ourselves fully underwater when we reached the first responders at the far end of the plunge pool. I also asked Sir Jason to promise to hold my hand during our ordeal, in order to haul me back to shore if my body went into a catatonic state.

He promised, giving me a quick kiss on the cheek.

And then it was our turn.

As we started to race into the freezing waters, I screamed, “Yeah! Date night!” Jason and I both whooped and hollered, encouraging the crowd of spectators to scream and clap as we raced towards the waiting fire-rescue team. I was moving so quickly that my body didn’t have time to register the true iciness of the waters as I flew deeper and deeper into the pool.

As we reached the far end of the plunge zone, I saw Jason make a mighty jump and then dive deep under the surface. I remembered — oh yeah! — this was our plan. I too dunked myself fully under the waters and instantly felt as if I’d been smashed by a semi-truck. This water was C!O!L!D!

What was I doing? Why was I here? I instinctively bounced back into the air, and felt my body lock up with shock. I had to literally yell at myself: “Turn around! Move! Get back to shore!”

At that moment, Jason let go of my hand.

I turned to find him — but he had apparently turned into an otter. He was still under the water, probably searching for oysters to snack upon. As I forced myself to take one step, then two, back towards the shore, my husband resurfaced — but again, embracing his new identity as an otter, he kept his face submerged, taking long, powerful strokes as he swam away from me.

I think with his otter brain, Jason completely forgot our pact to help one another to shore. I cussed and hollered as I took each painful, staggering step out of the water, while my husband set a swimming pace that would have rivaled Michael Phelps’s Olympic speed records.

He reached the shore a good 10 seconds ahead of me.

My daughter, whom we had bribed into taking pictures of our exploits, yelled at Jason to wait for me so we could take a happy ‘after’ pic. Jason stiff-armed her out of his way, dashing for his towel and dry clothes, as I painfully limped out of the water.

Once my husband dried off, his human brain returned to his body along with his circulation. He kindly helped me locate my towel, and pulled me up the hill away from the plunge zone to our car to warm up and head for home.

When it was all said and done, I have to admit — this was a crazy date, but it was also an amazing adventure to share with my husband.

And next time we take the plunge, I shall chain him to me with handcuffs, so that when he’s in Olympic-otter mode he can haul my frozen carcass back to shore. And then revive me to life with true love’s kiss.

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