NORTH BENNINGTON - It began just before New Year's Day when I casually mentioned that doing the Polar Bear's New Year's Swim would be an interesting experience. A week later, I saw the flyer for the Penguin Plunge on the bank wall and pulled the ticket from the poster, put it in my pocket and went back to work.

At night I emptied the contents of my pockets onto my coffee table and left the flyer in a pile of mail, mostly bills, that I avoided looking at. I finished out the work week and on my day off I set to clean the apartment. After all the dishes were washed and the clothes folded and put away I began sorting the mail, finding a penguin looking up at me.

I went online and researched the plunge. What I did not expect was that it cost me $25 to register and an addition $75 was expected to be raised with the money going to the Special Olympics. I did not know there were minimums.

When my girlfriend came home, I told her that I was thinking about doing it but I would not have the time to fundraise. Plus, I can jump into a frozen lake at anytime for free. She thought I should try and suggested that I call my family and ask them if they would donate. So, I did.

I started with my mother. She works for BFAIR Inc. in North Adams, Mass., where she assists mentally challenged individuals in the working world. She works with individuals cooking with the intent that eventually the individuals will become independent and take on jobs to support themselves. To my advantage or disadvantage, she happened to be in a luncheon with her co-workers when I called. "The money goes to Special Olympics," she repeated what I told her aloud at her meeting. "You need to raise $100."

The money came rolling in. When I met up with her to collect the money, she told me that even before she hung up the phone there was $50 in front of her. Well, there was no turning back. My girlfriend and her co-workers topped off the fundraising expectations and I was set to go. I registered online and merely waited for the day. Each warm day I said, "It won't be that bad." Each cold day I said, "No way am I going to do that."

On Friday, Feb. 1, the day before the plunge, I came down with a head cold. My muscles ached, my head hurt, my ears popped and my sinuses were congested. The morning of the plunge, it just got worse but I was already committed to do it. I thought maybe I should just turn in my money and sit out, but that option seemed like I was letting down both the people at BFAIR and my girlfriend's co-workers that willingly donated.

I was doing it on my own, not with a team as others did, so I was set to go later in the plunge, giving me adequate time to watch the others freeze. I watched nearly 30 people dive in and run back out before I was called for my turn. Rescue personnel said that the water was 34 degrees.

It was not like one would expect. The water did not feel cold at all when I dove in. I did not get cold until I got out of the water, when the air hit me. But when I was in the water, I was not in control of my thoughts. I dove in, stood up and by instinct began walking out of the water. I didn't think, "This is cold I want to get out," I just got out. It was like my body realized that I was dumb enough to voluntarily jump into the ice cold water and that it would not longer trust me to get out on my own.

There was a heater in the tent but it was crowded. My toes were cold. My arms were cold. My head was cold. My... I think the point is made. I changed my clothes and put on a winter jacket and left the tent but the chill never left. Even when I was home that night, sitting on my couch watching a movie, the chill never left.

If a list of the best ideas were made, going swimming at Lake Paran in North Bennington on Groundhog Day would not be near the top. To do it with a head cold would rank even lower. To ignore that and still do it to support a good cause is what I experienced this weekend. Would I do it again? No, but it was not that bad.